The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has promised to introduce immigration policies that will make it easier for nationals of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic currently living in Antigua & Barbuda, to regularize their immigration status.
This will involve possible constitutional change, waiving work permit fees and issuing citizenship to undocumented immigrants.
They announced the party’s intention during a press conference on Friday morning.
The party intends to introduce a “One Caribbean Act” that party leader, Harold Lovell said aligns with the pillars of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and regional integration.
CSME is a 1989 strategy that was agreed upon by CARICOM Heads of Government to implement measures that remove barriers to trade and that restrict professional development of its citizens.
“The new UPP administration will waive all work permit fees for nationals of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic who have been working and resident in Antigua and Barbuda on or before January 1, 2023,” he explained.
The party then plans to replace work permits with a “One Caribbean Employment Stamp”. The stamp will be transferrable among employers within the same industry and job class.
Those who will benefit include people from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and nine other countries that are part of CARICOM. Eight of the nine remaining countries that make up the Caribbean Community (including Antigua & Barbuda) do not need work permits to be lawfully employed here.
The stamp will give employment opportunities to these groups of people, similar to the provisions offered to nationals within the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
According to Mr. Lovell, the act will come into effect on March 1, 2023, provided that his party is elected into government on January 18.
The act is part of a wider programme, Lovell said and will include other policy implications for immigration.
He said the party will go even further and attempt to change the Constitution of Antigua & Barbuda to allow people who have grandparents who were born in Antigua and Barbuda to “secure a passport by descent”.
Such constitutional change will however require that a referendum be held.
Additionally, Lovell explained that “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”.
Other reforms will include increasing staff at the immigration office.
Mr. Lovell claimed that the immigration department is in “chaos” and that the immigration system and labour laws have failed to create an environment that is competent, compassionate, and equitable to nationals from CARICOM and from the Dominican Republic.
“The UPP will develop a properly resourced and competent processing system that is fair, compassionate and orderly and it must work for all Antiguans and Barbudans,” he concluded.
He told Island Press Box that the policy was developed from noticing the needs of residents here and what they have been hearing while canvassing the country.