– CARICOM Skilled Nationals Act amended
University graduate, media worker, musician, artiste, sports person, teacher, registered nurse, associate degree holder, artisan, domestic – if you fall into any of these categories you may have what it takes to be classified as a CARICOM Skilled National.
Yesterday afternoon, the National Assembly passed an amendment to the CARICOM Skilled Nationals Act that along with one other significant change saw the inclusion of these categories of workers in the ranks classified as CARICOM Skilled Nationals.
Persons in these categories are only required to obtain a Schedule II Certificate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to travel to other participatory CARICOM member states.
The other proposed change to the Act sees the list of Qualifying Countries being expanded by one to include the Bahamas, bringing the list up to 14 countries.
Drafted as a means of promoting the free entry of skilled nationals of qualifying Caribbean Community States, the act makes provisions for the entry of skilled nationals from other Caribbean States.
It is one of several pieces of legislation of Member States, which were enacted with the specific purpose of implementing the Free Movement of Skills.
These laws are generally known as the Caribbean Community Skilled Nationals Acts.
The original Act was passed in 1996, and in it the qualifications listed are a Degree from either the University of Guyana or the University of the West Indies, a degree from the University of Suriname, any comparable University degree, any qualification certified by the Secretary-General of CARICOM, or any qualification which the Minister prescribes as satisfying the qualification requirements.
The amendment changes the qualifications in that section to now include university graduates, media workers, musicians, artistes, sports persons, teachers, registered nurses, persons holding associate degrees, artisans possessing a Caribbean vocational qualification or an approved national vocational qualification or domestics who have obtained a Caribbean vocational qualification.
The clauses that make provisions for qualifications certified by the CARICOM Secretary-General or those prescribed as suitable by the Minister are also included.
According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, hassle-free travel between CARICOM states is essential to the free movement of persons.
And it is therefore understandable if the integration movement in the Caribbean Community is judged by the ease of travel between states.
Free movement is not absolute, however, warned the Minister, who pointed out that there are limited categories under which persons are allowed to work without needing employment permits.
Falling outside these categories means that a person needs to apply for a work permit in compliance with the laws of the country being considered.
Rodrigues-Birkett noted that in the last appraisal of the state of implementation of the CSME, in 2009, Guyana received a favourable report.
She pointed out that in Guyana there is no hindrance to the movement of capital as Guyana has abolished the foreign exchange control regime, and added that right of establishment is alive and well since CARICOM nationals can establish a company within Guyana without any difficulties.
The minister further pointed out that there is legislation on the transference of social security benefits and the avoidance of double taxation.
In terms of contingent rights, she noted that Guyana also provides emergency and primary healthcare and hospitalization to CARICOM nationals on the same basis as for Guyanese citizens, even though the country is not required to do so.
The Minister indicated that her agency has begun to facilitate the free movement of persons along these lines administratively, by issuing certificates under all of the categories, with the exception of the artisans and domestics, for which the requirements are still being refined.
She revealed that in the period spanning 1997 to 2011, the Ministry has issued 3301 certificates. Of these, 2,404 were university graduates; 124, trained teachers; 35, registered nurses; 65, musicians; 142, artistes; 43, media workers; 88, sports persons and 400 held associate degrees or equivalent qualifications such as ACCA, CAT and those from the Aeronautical School.
A further 25 certificates were also issued to non-nationals who were citizens of other CARICOM countries.
Rodrigues-Birkett also noted that the President has signed an order that will see the immigration act being updated to include the new categories of qualified persons so that the two acts may be in sync.
Despite the opposition’s support for the amendments to the Act, the PNCR still had something to say on the matter. Clarissa Riehl pointed out that the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) rests on five platforms.
These are the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital and the Caribbean Court of Justice.
She noted that while the states are sometime away from having truly free movement of persons, at the very least we must be content with hassle-free travel which itself is still not a reality.
Free movement of persons, according to Riehl, being the elimination of the need for a passport when travelling between CARICOM countries.
She noted that the largest free movement of persons flows outwards from Guyana with large numbers of citizens leaving the country for other shores.
Their departure, she argued, was the result of insufficient pay, an escalating crime rate, and a general lack of jobs which goes on to create a vacuum of skills in the wake of their migration.
Riehl pointed out that there are enclaves of Guyanese scattered throughout the region, and if these people can live and work abroad, meet their needs and still have enough money to support relatives back home in Guyana, then it begs the question of what is going wrong here?
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