Where is the Free Movement of Labour?

Administrator on November 6, 2014, 7:59 am 1163 3
Where is the Free Movement of Labour?

The recent experiences of thirteen Jamaicans who were denied entry into Trinidad brings to sharp focus the matter of the free movement of labour among CARICOM Nationals. The story was that on a night on September 30, 2014 these Jamaicans were forced to endure a cold reception, sleeping on the airport floor and being deprived of food before being returned to Jamaica the next day. Without apology, Trinidad's Minister of National Security, Gary Griffith, pronounced that there were some 19,000 Jamaicans living illegally in Trinidad and Tobago at significant costs to that State.

The claims from Trinidad, as presented by the National Security Minister, were that too many Jamaicans were living in that twin island republic causing that country more than a billion TT dollars annually. The fear was that any carte blanche facility that allows entry into the country without effective checks and balances would open the door to an explosion in criminal activity. The claim also was that the majority of Jamaicans living in Trinidad and Tobago had no fixed address and could not work and secure a source of income. As far as Trinidad and Tobago were concerned, there is no automatic right of entry by CARICOM Nationals who must first meet immigration requirements. Trinidad's Minister of National Security presented statistics that nearly 99% of landed passengers were accepted into that country. This is cold comfort.

The fact remains that not all CARICOM Nationals are being welcomed into T&T despite the what the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas says. Under Article 46 of this Revised Treaty, free movement of skilled labour is a right that a CARICOM National enjoys without the need for a work permit from Member States. This right is also to be protected by the Caribbean Community Skilled National's Act and the Immigration Laws of CARICOM Member States. The process of obtaining a CARICOM Skills Certificate is also spelled out. The Minister responsible for Labour in each CARICOM State is responsible for issuing the CARICOM skills Certificate to anyone wishing to work in another Member State. Applicants must submit to the Minister the following documents:

  • A letter of request for the skills certificate.
  • A birth certificate.
  • A copy of the identification pages of the passport.
  • Three passport-sized photographs.
  • A degree from the Universities of the West Indies, Guyana, or Suriname. Degrees from any other institution must first be certified by the University Council.
  • Copies of a marriage certificate (if applicable).
  • Copies of passport of any immediate dependent family member accompanying him/her.

At present eight categories of CARICOM Nationals are eligible to move freely throughout the region: university graduates, sportspersons, musicians, artistes, media workers, technical and supervisory staff attached to a company, managers, and self-employed persons or service providers. Spouses and immediate dependents of these skilled nationals would not need work permits.

Holders of skills certificate may be permitted either provisional or indefinite entry. It is also possible for a skilled national to get a skills certificate from the host country directly once proper credentials are provided by the applicant. If a certificate is issued by another Member State then the applicant may be granted provisional stay of up to six months. During this time an application for verification of that certificate would be required.

Complaints have been made about the need to re-apply for certification even with the skills certificate from a CARICOM Member State in hand. It is true that a number of legislative changes are still required among Member States to bring the intention of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas into effect. For example, Barbados is about to make changes in its Immigration Act to allow free movement of skilled persons. Jamaica has already amended its own immigration act to welcome skilled CARICOM Nationals. If you are a skilled CARICOM National wishing to enter Trinidad and Tobago to work, be prepared to undergo a number of processes before you can gain entry. For the unskilled, there are no guarantees.

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