In a significant move designed to erase major bureaucratic bottlenecks, Parliament yesterday passed legislation that will pave the way for spouses of CARICOM workers to be employed here without needing a work permit.
This was among a number of measures included in the Caribbean Community (Free Entry of Skilled Nationals) Amendment Bill 2014 that was piloted through the National Assembly by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett.
The law changes may force other CARICOM territories to adopt similar amendments as the region continues to struggle with the free entry concept.
According to the Minister, in her presentation, the idea behind the law changes is to allow for an even better and greater sense of belonging by CARICOM nationals, by allowing spouses and dependant family members of the principal beneficiary to be accorded similar rights as guaranteed by the Skilled National Certificate.
One of the changes has to do with CARICOM national application going to the Minister to have the certificate verified. Once the verification process finds that the certificate complies with the requirements, the holder of the certificate can apply to the Chief Immigration Officer to remain in Guyana for a period of indefinite duration.
It also sets out the parameters for the Minister to disregard a certificate notwithstanding its verification, if the holder is found to have been convicted of certain offences.
Another critical change has to do with the verification process which can take up to six months. This is also the length of stay given to all CARICOM nationals when they enter Guyana. “However, there is no provision in law to allow for the CARICOM national to work while the certificate is being verified. This amendment will allow him to work while the Certificate is being verified,” the Minister explained.
Regarding the spouses, Rodrigues-Birkett pointed out that there is no provision to allow for the partner of a skilled national to work once verification is completed and indefinite duration of stay is granted for the principal beneficiary.
“So if a skilled national – let’s say a pilot – comes to Guyana and brings his spouse, his spouse can only work if she gets a work permit, which is discretionary. The amendments allow the spouse the right to engage in gainful employment or other occupation without having to apply for a work permit once the certificate of the principal beneficiary is verified and indefinite duration is granted.”
Changes will also allow the lifting of restrictions to allow the workers and spouses to freely come and go without requiring further permission.
“As Guyana continues to grow we will be attracting more and more skilled Caricom Nationals. In fact, we will need them. I know that already we have skilled nationals in the aviation sector from Barbados, Jamaica and Belize. There are more in other sectors. Guyana is a friendly country and we welcome our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean with open arms. Today we are putting some additional legal mechanisms in place to ensure that their stay in Guyana will be worthwhile and enjoyable.”
The Minister believes that the amendments are yet another important step being taken by the Government of Guyana, to honour obligations under regional agreements “and in particular, our commitment to the CARICOM Single Market (CSM), by facilitating fully the Free Movement of Persons.”
The official recognized the issue of free movement in the region evokes different reactions by different groupings.
“In some instances, persons of certain nationalities complain of not being treated equitably across the Region. Indeed, several Guyanese have expressed disappointment with the differential treatment they have received when travelling to various CARICOM jurisdictions. The Government continues to highlight such instances at various fora and provide the necessary representation for our citizens. I must, however, indicate that in certain places we have seen improvements.”
However, free movement within the Caribbean community is not absolute. There are a finite number of categories of skilled persons who are permitted to travel across the region without requiring a work permit.
Currently, under the skills movement law, the categories allowed certificates to work elsewhere in CARICOM will include media workers; musicians; artistes; sports persons; teachers; registered nurses; persons holding associate degrees; artisans possessing a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) or an approved national vocational qualification and domestics who have obtained a CVQ.
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