Kaieteur News – We have our priorities twisted. Visa exemptions and the establishment of visa processing centres in Guyana should be secondary to larger economic concerns.
Not that the issue of visas is unimportant. It does matter to the average citizen but there are so many other pressing and more urgent matters to be resolved that it is quite befuddling that organisations and even senior government officials can find the time to call for visa concerns to be addressed when there are serious economic threats which deserve greater attention.
Yesterday, the United Kingdom reported inflation as high as 10.1 percent. This is the highest level of inflation since 1982. Milk, bread and energy prices are soaring. This has implications for doing business with Britain.
Guyana is exporting sugar, rice, rum, gold and wood products to Britain. High inflation is going to impact on the demand for those exports.
In the face of this threat, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has issued a call for the removal of visas for travel to the United Kingdom. This is unbelievable!
Is this a priority right now and if so, a priority for whom? Did the executive of the Chamber have a meeting in which this matter was discussed? Were there any personal interests involved? How did this become an issue at this stage? Did the Chamber conduct an economic analysis before it made this call for the removal of the visa requirement for Guyanese wishing to travel to the United Kingdom?
In its statement, the GCCI said that such a removal would augur well for economic relations between Guyana and the United Kingdom. So how exactly would the removal of the visa requirement augur well for economic relations? The visa requirement has never stood in the way of such relations.
Removing the visa does make it cheaper to travel. But by no means can it be said that the UK visa application fee is prohibitive. The Chamber speaks for a section of the business class who can more than afford the visa application fee.
Removing the visa requirement will have serious implications. At present Guyanese nurses are flocking to the United Kingdom to take up jobs. They and their accompanying family members each require a visa to enter the United Kingdom.
If that requirement is removed, there will be serious repercussions. The hospitals in Guyana will empty because hundreds of nurses will immediately take flight, leaving the health sector in a quandary. It is not clear whether the GCCI considered the implications for skilled persons if the UK visa requirement is removed.
But why the emphasis on removing the UK visa requirement? What about the US visa requirement? Does the GCCI not also think that it will augur well for economic relations with the USA, if the visa requirement to enter the US is also removed? Does Guyana not do more business with the US than the UK?
The GCCI should be concerned about the dramatic decline in the issuance of non-immigrant US visas to Guyanese. The country became an oil-producing country in 2019. Despite this, non-immigrant visa approvals have declined precipitously. In 2016, more than 50,000 non-immigrant visas were approved. In 2018, it was reported that 70 percent of the non-immigrant visa applications by Guyanese were denied. In that year, less than 5,000 non-immigrant visa applications were issued. For fiscal year 2021, it has declined further to 1,683.
In the meantime, the President of Guyana picked up on another visa issue – the Schengen visa. He called for the processing of the visa application to be done in Guyana. At present, persons desirous of travelling to an EU country have to be processed in Suriname, mainly for biometric purposes.
The President of Guyana has expressed a genuine concern. It is unreasonable for Guyanese to be asked to travel to Suriname for EU visa processing. But the President fell short of calling for a waiver of the Schengen visa requirement. At the least the EU member states should consider having the processing done locally as is the case with the visa applications for Canada and the United Kingdom.
The President addressed this issue at an event hosted by the European Union Delegation to Guyana. The President, however, did not do his homework. Had he done this, he would have realised that consular matters do not fall under the EU Delegation to Guyana but rather to the members of the European Union. He should therefore have his Ambassador to the EU – if there is one – address the need for Schengen visa processing services in Guyana.
But there are far more important matters than visas which should have detained the President. Guyana’s rice exports to the European Union are now under threat because of allegations of the discovery of traces of pesticide residue.
The Minister of Agriculture has reportedly said that pesticides are not used on exported rice. That may well be so but the EU report is damning on Guyana which exports almost half of its rice production to Europe.
The President should have spent time addressing this issue. It is far more important to economic relations than the local processing of Schengen visas.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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