Bird wants amnesty for illegal immigrants

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda: As the government prepares to review its policies relating to immigration work permits and citizenship, the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) says amnesty should be offered to non-nationals living in the country illegally.

National Security Minister Dr. Errol Cort has announced that the review, facilitated by a committee which he will chair, will involve a series of national consultations with key stakeholders and the general public.

“This committee will also have a mandate to examine and receive submissions from the public on matters pertaining to electoral reform to include, but not (be) limited to, the conditions under which other Commonwealth citizens should be allowed to participate in the electoral process of Antigua and Barbuda,” Dr. Cort said.

Cort said an important factor in determining an appropriate immigration policy is the ability of Antigua and Barbuda to continue absorbing its current number of immigrants.

Between September 1, 2008 and June 12, 2009, the Immigration Department approved 14,318 applications from people seeking extensions to remain in the country. Between 1998 and 2008, 5,000 work permits were granted annually. The number of work permits granted peaked in 1999 at 7,806.

“The impact on our school system, health care services, other social services and the labour market must all be carefully reviewed,” Cort said.

However, ALP leader Lester Bird has called for a different approach.

“The members of the Opposition call on your government to grant amnesty to those who have violated the terms of their entry prior to August 2008, to grant extensions to those who lawfully seek it, and to make clear your policy so that the uncertainty that plagues and enervates the immigrant community may end forthwith,” he said in a letter written to Cort.

Bird has accused the government of targeting Jamaican and Guyanese nationals and deporting them arbitrarily.

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