Just over a month after Parliament approved a programme that allows visitors to live and work remotely in Barbados for up to a year, 12 people have already arrived here to get on with the job under the Barbados Welcome Stamp visa scheme.
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Margaret Inniss told a news conference today hosted jointly by the Ministries of Tourism and Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs that three of those visitors were already in the island vacationing or working, but could not return home due to the closure of borders brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To this point we have had approximately 12 persons arriving in Barbados primarily from the US, UK and Canada and those are our dominant markets. You have a combination of both individuals and families, the individuals, the numbers far outweigh the family groups, but the families are coming as well; they are asking a lot of questions. Persons are looking to relocate their families while they are working remotely,” Inniss revealed.
Asked if any of the dozen remote workers had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Deputy Chief Immigration Officer replied: “We have no such information.”
Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams who opened the news conference, announced that between July 18 and last Saturday, some 1,079 applications had been processed.
“Of these applications received, 764 were individuals and 315 were family bundle applications. The five leading countries seeking entry under this programme are the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria and India,” Abrahams disclosed while not saying how many were approved.
The Minister of Home Affairs said that the USA, Britain and Canada accounted for 788 applications, which equate to about 73 per cent of the total applications so far.
“Approximately 60 persons have been refused based on the fact that they were seeking employment in Barbados and or received derogatory comments from the JRCC [Joint Regional Communications Centre] indicating an association with narcotic networks or other undesirable activities,” he stated.
“It should be noted that the people recommended for refusal, some were actually asked to submit additional information and when they did submit the additional information were primarily persons seeking employment,” he added.
However, the Home Affairs Minister sought to make it clear that even where the Immigration Department is obligated to reject persons who were convicted of a crime, he as minister had the final say to be flexible based on the nature of the offence.
“What I wish for us to understand is that while we are being security conscious, the fact is, we have to be aware of what we are trying to do. The intention of the Welcome Stamp is to fill the gap left by the failure of the tourism arrivals. So in some instances although we had negative reports from JRCC, we went behind that to look; and the dominant logic was, if that person came here as a tourist, would we turn them back based on it,” Abrahams declared.
“In one case, the JRCC had a derogatory comment and that person had been charged with driving under the influence. Now obviously, driving under the influence does register as a criminal conviction in other places, but that is not the sort of person we are necessarily trying to exclude. We are trying to exclude people who are a threat to national security. That is the major exclusionary condition,” explained the minister.
He also said that the welcome stamp programme was geared mainly towards people in the middle to upper middle income bracket who earn their money outside of Barbados.
He also gave the assurance that those who have exhausted their 12-month stay here under the visa scheme can extend their working visit as long as they are not a financial burden on the state or have become a threat to national security.
Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins announced that there is now a great level of interest among Barbadians across the diaspora to participate in the remote programme.
“One of the key things we are seeing is that there is an incredible amount of interest in the Barbadian diaspora. So you have a number of Barbadians who are living and working abroad…their families are with them…they have married and in some instances in particular, what we are seeing are Barbadians who are children of Barbadian citizens; and they are Barbadians by descent. Many of them have never lived or worked in Barbados,” Senator Cummins pointed out.
However, she noted that these Barbadians are employed in the different sectors that would allow them to work remotely.
She said that because of the challenges they face by the pandemic in their countries and having a Barbadian connection, they want to come here and bring their families.
The tourism minister told the news conference that for example these nationals are asking how can their spouses who are not Barbadians qualify.
“So you have those persons who would qualify in their own right as Barbadians to be here, but they are looking to come here as descendants of Barbadians because of their connection. So that diasporic market is a significant area that we are going to be targeting in the coming weeks,” Minister Cummins stated.
She said that those in the technology industry, for example, would be a key area of attraction for the programme.
“But we are seeing a number of teachers, people who are teaching particularly in tertiary level institutions who have indicated that they are not going back into classroom immediately or they have an extended period of time for classrooms, which would be later on in the year, especially at the university based level; and they are looking to come to bring their children,” she added.
“So you also have a hybrid approach from many of those persons. They have the option of either going back into the classrooms or taking their kids online…and some of them are opting, based on the circumstances in their country, to bring their children to Barbados and their families and to join their classes online because of concerns about infection rates,” Senator Cummins reported.