Early last week, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) imposed visa requirements for entry on five countries, including two from the Caribbean – Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines:
‘Beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT today, citizens of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (St. Vincent), Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland now require a visa to travel to Canada,’ Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced.
For the first 48 hours, or until 11:59 p.m. September 12, 2012, citizens of these countries who are in transit to Canada at the time the visa requirement takes effect will be able to receive a Temporary Resident Permit on arrival in Canada, free of charge, if they are not otherwise inadmissible to Canada.
‘We continue to welcome genuine visitors to Canada,’ said Minister Kenney. ‘These changes are necessary to protect the integrity of Canada's fair and generous immigration system by helping us to reduce an unacceptably high number of immigration violations.’
The statement contained a brief explanation for the new policy:
A key reason why the government has imposed visa requirements on St. Lucia and St. Vincent is unreliable travel documents. In particular, criminals from these countries can legally change their names and acquire new passports. In some instances, people who were removed from Canada as security risks later returned using different passports.
The Government of Saint Lucia expressed disappointment at the decision stating in a press release that:
…it deeply regrets that the Canadian Government did not give it an opportunity to address the concerns regarding the claims of ‘unreliable travel documents’ allegedly held by some Saint Lucians.
While St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves felt that the reason for the visa requirements was the excessive refugee applications from citizens, Vincy View cited the Consul General, who believes immigration fraud is to blame:
…SVG Consul General in Canada Steve Phillips has stated that the main reason behind the visa restrictions on Vincentians is immigration fraud, in which certain people come to Canada with passports baring false names, after being deported from Canada.
Phillips further noted that there have been several instances of immigration fraud by Vincentians, with the Canada Border Services Agency making constant reports on the issue.
Vincy View also noted that Phillips himself has written supporting letters for refugee status applicants:
Both Opposition and Government officials in SVG have wrote letter supporting refugee claims. Steve Phillips, SVG’s consul general in Canada, in 2008 wrote a letter to support the refugee claim of domestic abuse victim Leila Brown-Trimmingham, who feared for her life in SVG…
At Bajan Reporter, Vicky Augustin spoke to a source within Canadian immigration and found out the problems were longstanding and that the goverments had been informed of the impending action:
There has been an unacceptably high number of asylum claims from St. Lucia with about one and a half percent of the population of the country making asylum claims in Canada over the past five years.
For months the Government of St Lucia has recognized the problem of immigration violations out of St Lucia. These problems have gotten worse, not better.
Julian Williams felt the decision of the Canadian authorities was inevitable:
During Prime Minister's Trudeau's rule, every English speaking Caribbean country enjoyed that non-visa agreement with Canada. But Jamaica was the first casualty in the late 80's with their drug pushing and violent crime. Then later it was Guyana and Trinidad and Grenada who lost the privilege after review of their falling GDP and their crime statistics in Canada. But it was the trinis who brought that frivolous refugee status application in the equation. Now its St Lucia and St Vincent.Only Antigua and St.Kitts /Nevis enjoy that non-visa privilege and I wish them well in safeguarding it.
Williams also criticized what he considers the poor representation of the Caribbean by its diplomats overseas:
And the OECS High commission was closed last year! Go figure the impression that was conveyed when our Caribbean constituency voluntarily abandoned their constituency! I wondered how those same Caribbean diplomats would have handled a situation if revocation of the non-visa agreement also meant stripping them of their diplomatic status or passports!
Abeni saw the visa requirement as burdensome and suggested that Vincentians find somewhere else to visit:
With the economic downturn being felt Vincentians have been packing their bags and heading northwards to Canada. Some rather than applying themselves to being productive citizens have found themselves in trouble with the law and subsequently deported. From my vantage point both political sides have valid points but I suspect they would rather die than give any such concession. So now visas are needed and the form is so discouraging that persons may not even want to bother applying. For example, applicants must list the names of all their siblings-half, full, step along with their DOB and occupation. Hmmmm, given the dynamics of the Caribbean family that list could get very long!
Darby Etienne also wondered what role the closing of the OECS High Commission played:
Could it be that as a result of closing the High Commission of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in Ottawa, Canada which served both St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines lost their diplomatic stripes and the respect of the Canadian government? Or is it that their reliance on their consulate offices, in Toronto, lacked the mandate to deal with diplomatic issues thereby placing them at the end of prejudicial anger?