By Carlena Knight
If successful at the polls, the UPP has pledged to promptly implement a number of new policies, including axing work permits for Caricom nationals.
OECS countries already benefit from this waiver but Caricom nationals must still brave long lines and pay fees to be able to legally work in the country.
That will be no more according to UPP Political Leader Harold Lovell who, in a press statement yesterday, confirmed that the ‘One Caribbean Act’ would come into effect on March 1.
Caricom and Dominican Republic nationals who have been living and working in Antigua and Barbuda as of January 1 this year would be eligible for the waiver.
“Work permits for nationals of Caricom and the Dominican Republic will be replaced by the One Caribbean Employment stamp which will be transferrable from one employer to another within the same industry and same job class,” Lovell said.
“By replacing work permits with the One Caribbean Employment stamp, our One Caribbean Act will extend similar opportunities to Caricom nationals as well as nationals from the Dominican Republic.
“Therefore, Guyanese or Jamaicans and other Caribbean Caricom nationals, as well as nationals from the Dominican Republic, who have been working peacefully among us will no longer require a work permit. This represents further advancement towards the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and regional integration,” he said.
Presently, Caricom exempts university graduates, artistes, musicians, sportspersons, media workers, nurses, teachers, artisans with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), holders of associate degrees or comparable qualification, and household domestics with a CVQ or its equivalent from requiring work permits.
However, applicants seeking exemption certificates often complain of the frustrating hoops through which they have to pass to receive them.
With an extensive list of exemptions already in place, it is unclear how many people in the country the new policy might apply to – or how the UPP might fill the gap in revenue – but it would undoubtedly be a welcomed endeavour based on the large number of Caricom nationals living in Antigua and Barbuda.
The One Caribbean Act would also see amendments made to key areas of legislation.
“We will also seek to amend the Constitution to allow people who have an Antiguan and Barbudan great-grandparent who was born in Antigua and Barbuda to secure their Antigua and Barbuda passport by descent,” Lovell continued.
“Undocumented immigrants who came to this country as minors and have lived and attended primary and secondary school here and consider Antigua and Barbuda their home will be fast-tracked on a pathway to citizenship upon attaining the age of 18 as part of the One Caribbean Act,” he added.
And persons who break their residency period “due to unavoidable absence caused by the Covid pandemic will suffer no adverse immigration consequences”.
An Immigration Affairs desk tasked with promoting the wellbeing of migrant communities would also be created, along with an Immigration Appeals Tribunal to “ensure the quick settlement of immigration disputes”.
The addition of an “education for all” policy is also on the cards.
“This policy will remove red tape and prevent discrimination in the school enrollment process. Immigration checks and Ministry of Education approval will no longer be required for school access by immigrant children,” Lovell said.
“The new UPP administration will provide greater access to free public school education. We will construct a new secondary school to serve the Rural West and Rural South constituencies and add new smart classrooms to other school plants.
“This will reduce overcrowding and improve the learning environment,” he added.