Editorial: Real people and real repercussions

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We are going to delve into the cold, dark, frightening waters of the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), again.  Frankly, we are growing weary of this topic because it just seems to be never-ending and lacking progress … at least in a positive direction.
The most recent news to surface surrounds the plight of an Antiguan student who has been studying in China and who has been stranded on his return trip home for over a month.  All because of the revocation of visa-free travel status to Canada.  It is a good example of how real the repercussions are and how they can impact a person’s life. 
We know you were expecting us to address the response to the Prime Minster by the former Citizenship by Investment (CIU) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chisanga Chekwe, but first things first … we will get to that. 
To bring you up to speed, on June 26, Canada discontinued visa-free access to that country for citizens of Antigua & Barbuda: with near immediate effect. There was a hue and cry from the public but the government told us that it was always a calculated risk that was consciously taken and that the outcome was not a complete surprise.
Essentially, they would make the same decisions all over again, if they had to, because the benefits outweighed any downsides.  As they were quick to point out, the visa-free travel benefitted only a few people. 
On the latter point, it is hard to argue. Travel to Canada is not a high priority for most Antiguans & Barbudans, but at the same time, it does matter.  In the case mentioned above, the 23-year-old architecture major was unable to secure a visa for travel through Canada on his way home and had to forfeit an expensive $5,000 airline ticket.  According to Linda Hogan, the mother of the student, they explored all possible avenues to obtain a visa for the young man but were met with impassible roadblocks.  That resulted in her son being stranded in China and his non-refundable, non-modifiable ticket becoming worthless.
Luckily, the government has apparently stepped in to assist and secured a new route back home through the United Kingdom.  A mother and son will soon be re-united after a lengthy delay.  We must say, compliments to whoever spearheaded that intervention and to the government for stepping-up to assist.
The reason we are highlighting this set of circumstances is to demonstrate that the repercussions are real and they have significant impacts on people’s lives, both in terms of time and money (not to mention frustration, etc.).  All of that is important when we consider the risks of losing any other visa-free travel benefits.  Already we hear grumblings about the United Kingdom and the other European countries in the Schengen Area.
Not too long ago, the European Union’s (EU) Head of Division for Central America, Mexico & the Caribbean Aldo Dell’Ariccia warned that countries of the Schengen zone continue to have misgivings about the CIP and the visa free access it grants to Europe.  He said, “Our concern is that the countries that have these programmes must carry out due diligence in order to make sure that all citizens who are bearing your passport have no risk of being arrested or are in search lists for wanted people.”
His comments came on the heels of Canada’s revocation of visa free privileges which according to the Canadian government was done due to concerns about “the integrity” of our nation’s passport.
Although Dell’Ariccia made it clear that there was no current review being conducted of Antigua & Barbuda’s qualification for visa-free access, we couldn’t shake that uneasy feeling that his comments evoked. 
Just think of the travel problems we would face if routes through the United Kingdom and the Schengen Area required visas.  The mere fact that we would have to apply means that there is a chance that a percentage of people will not be granted a visa and that will be a massive inconvenience. 
Which brings us to the recent comments from Chekwe.  Overall, he is promoting a mature level of discussion, realising the financial importance to the nation.  As he said, “This is not a time for juvenile temper tantrums.  Antigua & Barbuda has an opportunity here that can be exploited for the country’s benefit but before that can be done, there must be humility and acknowledgement of past error.”
Look, we may not be fans of the CIP but we can realise that we need to move past the tantrums and get on with the business at hand.  And that business is ensuring that our CIP does not end-up doing more harm than good.
We have to ensure that we extract all the benefits of CIP, which are overwhelmingly financial, while maintaining the integrity of our nation’s passport.
And to achieve that goal, sometimes you have to learn how to take the last knock and move on.  Something that seems to be a very elusive concept for politicians to grasp.

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