Antigua – Amnesty bill passed
ST JOHN’S –– The bill to grant amnesty to “thousands” of illegal immigrants received bipartisan support when it was passed in the Lower House yesterday, after numerous recommendations were adopted to expand the criteria and yet make them more stringent.
The proposed law, titled the Immigration And Passport (Amendment) Act 2015, further seeks to allow residents, who are currently lawful, but who had gaps in their time in the past, to pay for those gaps, among other fees, and have the time considered as lawful.
This would then allow those persons, provided they were resident in Antigua & Barbuda for seven or more years, to apply for citizenship. However, they would not qualify if (1) they have criminal convictions, (2) are not in good health and (3) do not have family ties in Antigua & Barbuda.
Leader of the Opposition Baldwin Spencer, who made the most recommendations, with which the ruling administration concurred, said the three areas of consideration for issuing the amnesty were insufficient and inadequate.
“There has to be, or would certainly have to be taken into consideration because we are talking about individuals who have remained in Antigua & Barbuda illegally over an extended period and the whole question of whether or not these individuals would have made their contribution, for instance, paying their taxes, do what would be required, it does address that,” Spencer said.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne agreed with another of Spencer’s recommendations that the bill should include a requirement stating that individuals must pay for arrears, in addition to any other prescribed fees, to have their status regularized.
Browne added that the criteria should include “something about the individual’s productivity” over the years.
Browne also called for the power to be given to the cabinet to grant amnesty and not the minister as was proposed in the “Explanatory Note” of the bill.
“I spoke privately with the attorney general and indicated to him that this particular provision in which the power would be vested in the minister in Clause 2(3) it should be the cabinet and the reason for this is to ensure that there is no discretionary individual power that would be subjected to abuse,” the prime minister said yesterday while contributing to the debate.
He also expressed the hope that residents would see the economic and other benefits associated with the passage of this bill.
“From what I understand, we have thousands of CARICOM nationals living in the country illegally, many of whom are undocumented and what this bill seeks to do is to legitimize their status. We have to bring all our human resources into play to rebuild this economy. Antigua has been built by indigenous people and CARICOM nationals and we want to bring this particular group on as part of the official labour pool of this country,” Browne stated.
He assured the House that the move did not mean the authorities would be granting citizenship “willy-nilly” as individuals must still pass a strict criteria in order to qualify.