Immigration amnesty bill likely by next month


POINTE XPRESS: While no fixed date has been given when the government will introduce a bill to Parliament that will grant amnesty to non-nationals who may have overstayed their time in the country, Chief of staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ambassador Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst says it will likely be in February, following the budget presentation and debate .


Once approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, non-nationals whose immigration status has lapsed will be given an opportunity to regularise themselves. The announcement of the government’s intention to extend the immigration amnesty was announced during last week’s post-Cabinet press briefing.


Cabinet Spokesman Melford Nicholas explained one reason for the consideration is the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on some people and their livelihoods. “This was one of the issues we noted during the last two years. Because so many persons found themselves in positions where they were unemployed, a number of our Caribbean citizens who reside here became victims of unemployment as well and it would have disrupted their ability to be able to make good on payments to the immigration department.”


Another reason is the vaaccine mandate introduced by the government late last year. The infomation minister stated people whose immigration status is expired may not have come forward to accept the vaccine for fear of suffering consequences if discovered .


“Last year when we wanted to increase the number of persons, who were being vaccinated. Persons who fell into that category where their immigration status may have been an issue were fearful of coming forward for the vaccines and we made exceptions to that and indicated that it would not have affect their stay on island if they came forward, even though they had a challenge with regularising their immigration status,” Nicholas pointed out.


It is those issues that formed the basis of the Gaston Browne administration’s decision to offer a period of amnesty.


Nicholas highlighted the contributions that have been made to the country’s development by non-nationals, adding that with economic growth projected upwards of eight percent this year, an all hands on deck approach is required in order to achieve success.


“All those persons who are here living amongst us from other Caribbean states, whether it is from the OECS or from the wider Caribbean , we want to ensure they play an effective role and make an effective contribution to life and living here in Antigua as well,” Minister Nicholas concluded


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