The Home Affairs Minister has put the nation’s border control agency that it needs to clear a “worrying” backlog of applications before it for would-be citizens and immigrants – now that it is about to move into brand new offices.
Though not revealing the extent of the backlog, Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson is promising that full-scale modernisation of the Immigration Department was in the works and that it would not be business as usual when it is fully moved into its new headquarters on Princess Alice Highway.
Following a walkthrough of the new offices this morning, to replace the condemned headquarters at Wharf Road, the minister explained that some citizenship and immigrant status applications were taking as much as five years to be processed. The Minister contended that now that the border control agents are housed in more comfortable surroundings, it is expected that productivity will increase.
“The Immigration Department now has to do its task. As far as I am concerned and as far as the Government of Barbados is concerned, there would be no excuses for not facilitating the ease of the citizens of Barbados. People who reside in Barbados must be able to have their applications before the Immigrations Department processed in a timelier manner,” said Hinkson, who conducted the walkthrough with Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall and other top immigration officers.
The minister was referring to the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) battle for its members to be relocated from unfit environs. The issue had resulted in some staff taking industrial action after Government missed several deadlines to finish the new headquarters since 2016.
Noting today that it was not reasonable to expect officers to function in substandard conditions, Hinkson however said that with the issue now resolved, it was time for the Immigration Department to get down to the business of tackling matters of efficiency.
“We cannot continue to accept a situation where people have applied for citizenship by marriage which they are entitled to under the laws of Barbados and three, four five years after you have paid for the application, you still have not gotten the citizenship. We can’t accept that anymore, we have to facilitate business and processes in Barbados, that make it easier for people to live and work in this country,” he told reporters.
Hinkson revealed that Government intends to bring the department up to speed in terms of advancements in digital technology as well as a revision of the of the Immigration Department’s legislative framework.
The Prime Minister [Mia Mottley] in her infinite wisdom set up a Ministry of Smart Technology headed by Senator Kay McConney…. Her ministry is assisting the Immigration Department in advancing the processes to make them quicker,” the Minister said, adding that plans were in the pipeline to bring legislation, which would allow for the use of facial recognition kiosk to fast track the immigration process at arrivals.
Chief Immigration Officer Marshall told journalist that the modernisation his department has already begun, revealing that persons applying for Barbados passports for the first time, or those seeking to renew them, will now be issued with an e-passport.
He revealed that the Immigration Department is phasing out the machine-readable passport in favour of e-passport, following a recommendation by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) of the new standard to be adopted for travel documents.
The e-passport is a biometrically enabled passport with a chip and antenna in the cover that offer enhanced security features.
“It would be more difficult to replace an e-passport because there is a chip in the actual cover. Anyone seeking to replicate the passport would have to remove the chip and ensure that it has the same information as on the biodata page,” Marshall said.