PORT OF SPAIN – Trinidad and Tobago’s former national security minister is claiming that there are over 20,000 undocumented Jamaicans in the twin-island republic who are a burden on the country and costing government to lose out on half billion dollars every year.
And, says Gary Griffith, the Keith Rowley administration must not be intimidated by “any foreign political party” in its efforts to safeguard its security and economic resources.
His comments came on the heels of criticism in Jamaica and calls for a boycott of Trinidadian products, after Immigration officers at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad refused entry to 12 Jamaicans last month. Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dennis Moses had explained that the Jamaicans who tried to enter the country on March 21 were sent back home because they were likely to become a charge on the public purse.
However, Jamaica’s opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Anthony Hylton, called on the Andrew Holness-led government to take the matter before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Griffith contended that many Jamaicans refuse to leave the country after gaining entry under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) free movement regime, and end up benefitting from state resources and getting jobs, or contributing to Trinidad and Tobago’s crime problem.
“It is indeed alarming that the Jamaican Opposition would question the legitimate actions by our Immigration officers as they attempt daily to do their jobs, after being abused constantly by a few Jamaican nationals who attempt to enter our country without the appropriate requirements, and documentation,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“It is because of this, that there are over 20,000 Jamaican Nationals who have done just that, by using the CSME angle to enter for six months, but then refuse to leave after that six-month period . . . . These 20,000 Jamaicans alone [are] costing the State over TT$500 million [US$75.4 million] per annum in loss of State revenue.”
Griffith said that, as a result, some remain unemployed or turn to a life of crime; those who work are abused by their employers and paid below the minimum wage because they are in the country illegally, “hence taking a job away from a bona fide TT citizen who is unemployed”; and they get full use of State resources such as education, healthcare and other social services although they pay no taxes.
“The Jamaican Opposition now challenges the law of our country, because of the recent protest by a few Jamaican nationals because they were denied entry to our country, which is simply a regurgitation of a situation where some feel that our Immigration officers are obliged to allow every Jamaican into our country at all times,” the former national security minister said.
“Nothing is further from the truth, as with each case the officers have provided sufficient and legitimate grounds for the entry denial. Our country has always welcomed all foreign nationals if they adhere to what is required, with less than three percent of Jamaican nationals being denied entry.”
Pointing out that people trying to enter Trinidad and Tobago can be denied entry, under Section 8 (1) (h) of the Immigration Act, if they are deemed as a threat to national security or may be a liability to the public purse, Griffith argued that the twin-island republic was “too relaxed on the latter”, which has allowed certain CARICOM residents to abuse the automatic six-month stay rule.
“It is not coincidental that the escalation in serious crime in our country has escalated at the same period when this CSME window of opportunity came into effect. There are many such persons from CARICOM who come here, not knowing where they are going to live, or work, but expect automatic entry. The response of some of these persons is alarming, as this is not the first time that a few Jamaican nationals have used this same nonsense of boycotting Trinidad products because our Immigration officers are doing their job. Simply put, they are totally out of place,” Griffith said.
“It must also be noted that many other territories undertake a similar practice, and quite rightly so, including the United States. However, you hardly hear similar loud protestations and calls for trade boycotts when dozens of citizens form certain Caribbean countries are denied entry daily. In fact, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago at times are also denied entry to Jamaica, as is their right, and we would be totally out of place to speak about boycotting Jamaica products because their Immigration officers were doing their job.”
Griffith insisted that Immigration officers in Trinidad and Tobago ought not to face scrutiny, but be applauded when they prevent undesirables from entering the country.
He said these officers have to deal with Jamaicans who: provide conflicting information on the reasons for their visit, with their stories not being corroborated by their intended hosts; are hosted by other Jamaican nationals in the country with illegal visitor status; have insufficient funds to support the length of their intended stay in the country; rip up Immigration forms; do not know where they are staying, or working; and lie about their intended address or potential employer.
“The Immigration officers need to feel as if they are being supported for doing what needs to be done, as in many of these circumstances, after getting the reports, there are many solid reasons why they were denied entry, and failed to adhere to the requirements as set out in our Immigration Act . . .” Griffith said.
He warned that if Immigration officers are not allowed to do their jobs, the current “disaster”’ of undocumented immigrants could get significantly worse.