ST. JOHNS, Antigua, January 8, 2022- As Antiguans prepare to go to the polls to elect a new government on Wednesday January 18, the Gaston Browne administration has adopted a campaign promise of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), to eliminate work permits for CARICOM nationals and citizens of the Dominican Republic.
UPP Leader Harold Lovell, In his New Year's Message, as well as in his party’s manifesto said the UPP was conscious of the discrimination that Caribbean nationals have endured, and in light of this, the UPP will enact relief measures and strengthen the systems by which they may be more comfortably incorporated into the Antigua and Barbuda society. This will include the elimination of work permits for CARICOM Nationals.
However, over the weekend, not to be outdone, the incumbent Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, fully aware of the potential effect of the UPP campaign promise in the ballot box next Wednesday, announced that it has now decided to eliminate the requirement for work permits for nationals of CARICOM Community countries who are gainfully employed in Antigua and Barbuda, effective 1st January 2023.
The announcement by Gaston Browne was against the background that among those eligible to vote on January 18, are thousands of Guyanese, Jamaicans, and nationals of Trinidad and Tobago as well as the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic who are naturalised Antiguan-Barbudans.
According to the government, its action is consistent with its obligations under CARICOM’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and “ in keeping with Antigua and Barbuda’s commitment to the economic integration of the Caribbean region, the elimination of work permits for persons who are gainfully employed, will be extended to people from the Dominican Republic,” the Browne administration said.
In combination with an earlier Government decision to waive all unpaid work permit fees, which were due up to 31st December 2022, this means that all nationals of CARICOM countries and the Dominican Republic who are now in Antigua and Barbuda and are gainfully employed will not be required to pay for a work permit.
These decisions are an acknowledgement of the role that our Caribbean brothers and sisters have played, alongside native Antiguans and Barbudans, in the development of our country; and the need for labour as our economy expands, the government said.
While not happy that the incumbent Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) has ‘stolen’ another of its manifesto platforms, Lovell said he was gratified to see the Browne administration adopt another of the UPP’s plans – this time the removal of the work-permit requirement for nationals of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic.
“That decision, which is contained within the UPP’s “One Caribbean” policy, was announced right after the New Year opened; carried in the press on Tuesday; and ventilated by Lovell on Thursday night at the political rally held in the City East constituency.
Its adoption by the Labour Party Government is accepted by the UPP as validation of its Political Leader’s vision and ideas and proof that it is the UPP who is poised to take this country to an elevated level,” the UPP said.
The UPP said it proves, as well, that its policies will not bankrupt the country, as the ABLP contends, since the Browne Administration already has adopted our proposals on fuel-price reductions and a revision of the minimum wage, albeit in disappointing quantum.
The UPP, at the same time, said it has its reservations about its implementation of the policy.
According to that opposition party, on the eve of the 2018 General Election, Prime Minister Gaston Browne had claimed he would remove the payment of ABST from eyeglasses and funeral expenses. To date, however, this has not been done. Further, that party said non-nationals had been deprived of the six-month work-permit waiver promised in 2014 and then rewarded with a sudden and brutal hike in work-permit and Extension-Form fees after 2018 – have not faded.
“In this current instance, the UPP can only hope the ALP Government has not filched Mr. Lovell’s plans simply to deceive these members of the immigrant community and secure votes by dishonesty,” the UPP added.
Antigua and Barbuda is a founding member of CARIFTA, which preceded the establishment of CARICOM. Antigua and Barbuda is also a founder of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, whose nationals already enjoy freedom from work permits.