Teachers, artisans, domestic workers are to be formally included among ten categories of certified skilled nationals allowed to be able to work and live indefinitely in all but one of the 15 member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) by year-end.
And in a related development, CARICOM skilled nationals in seven states – Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti and Suriname – will be able to relocate with their spouses, young children and dependent parents.
As signatories to the Protocol on Contingent Rights, a certified skill national worker can receive social benefits afforded the citizens in the host countries.
These historic decisions reached at the July 4 – 6 CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica were announced this morning by Ambassador-designate to the region and the Association of Caribbean States David Comissiong during his first news briefing on regional developments within the integration movement.
While the leaders agreed on a long list of issues, at least four critical decisions made will go a long way towards consolidating and cementing the rights of Caribbean people, Comissiong told reporters at the foreign ministry’s headquarters on Culloden Road.
He was updating the media on progress towards the free movement of CARICOM people across the region for the purpose of business or professional interests and jobs – a key plank of the CARICOM Single Market (CSME).
The CARICOM Skilled Nationals Programme takes pride of place among the four decisions to facilitate all of the ten categories of skilled nationals who now possess the right to seek employment in any country of the Caribbean Community with the exception of the Bahamas, which is not a member of the CSME.
These ten categories of skilled workers are: artisans who possess Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs), household domestics who possess Caribbean Vocational Qualifications, persons with Associate Degrees or with at least 2 CAPE or A level certificates, nurses, teachers, artistes, musicians, sportspersons, media workers and university graduates.
Of the 240 Articles in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, none is more important than the one which commits member states to achieving the goal of free movement of their nationals within the community, the CARICOM Ambassador-designate said.
“The Conference of Heads of Government unanimously and ‘strongly’ urged all member states to enact the necessary national laws to give full effect to all ten categories of skilled nationals on or before 31 December, 2018,” he added.
When these categories of skilled workers are able to live and work freely they will augment the freedom of movement regime that already exists for CARICOM nationals who are self-employed service-providers and for business enterprise outside of their home country, Comissiong told journalists.
Identifying the Protocol on Contingent Rights – which became effective August 1 – as another critical decision for freedom of movement, he noted that these rights are to be extended to all Caribbean nationals contingent on their existing rights under the Skilled Nationals Programme and the Rights of Establishment – the right to set up a business in a Caricom state – and Provision of Services Regime.
“Thus, the Protocol on Contingent Rights grants to a spouse [of a skilled national seeking work] not only the right to unrestricted travel to and from the new host country, but also the right to live and work in the host country without the need for any work permit,” he explained.
Dependent children have also been granted rights to live in the host country and to access primary education therein on the same terms as citizens of the host country, the Ambassador-designate disclosed.
Comissiong explained that professionals such as teachers, musicians and media workers only need to obtain a certificate of accreditation from the Barbados Accreditation Council as proof of their skill for presentation to the authorities in the host state.
He also highlighted a third decision in which the Heads adopted a standard redress procedure to be applied throughout the Community when CARICOM nationals who are refused entry in any member state.
“The importance of this decision is that all CARICOM nationals now have the protection of an official, established procedure which mandates that they must be fully informed of all of their rights by a senior immigration officer; they must be given written reasons for the refusal; and they must be permitted to contact a family member, consular officer and attorney at law if so desire,” he said.
Comissiong, who had accompanied Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the July CARICOM summit in Jamaica, said nationals who are refused entry must also be afforded the right of an administrative review of the decision by the Chief Immigration Officer – while they are still in the country – and in the event they are returned home, must be accorded the right to bring judicial review proceedings in court.
He pointed out that the complainant must be allowed back into the country which refused them only for the purpose of the judicial review and if, due to financial reasons, they are unable to make the trip, they must be facilitated via video conferencing.
The bulk of these procedures will take place at the airport almost immediately, Comissiong told reporters.
“Where we need to attach timelines is in relation to the administrative review. But bear in mind that the other things happen immediately at the airport. If the immigration officer decides to refuse you entry, then the senior officer on duty at the airport needs to inform of all of your rights, put the specific reasons for your refusal in writing, and needs to immediately give you access to [a] telephone, family member, consular officer, attorney at law,” Comissiong explained.
However, he said the details of how the administrative review would work particularly in terms of timing, now have to be “fleshed out” by the various Governments as a matter of urgency.
Comissiong pointed out that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas states that a CARICOM national can only be refused entry to another’s country on the grounds of having insufficient funds to maintain themselves and could become a burden on the state, or if they posed a serious threat to public safety.
The fourth decision which he placed on the table was that all Haitians should now enjoy the full rights of the other CARICOM members including not requiring visas to entry Caribbean countries. (EJ)