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Cabinet to fulfil work permit waiver promise; mulls over stranded Africans

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The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party government is moving swiftly to fulfil its election campaign promise to waive work permit fees for nationals of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic.

On Wednesday, the cabinet invited Chief Immigration Officer, Katrina Yearwood, and three senior immigration officials to meet with them to discuss the matter.

A source close to the cabinet said the discussion centred how the plan to remove the requirement for work permits for nationals of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic will be accomplished. 

After a thorough examination of the issue, the cabinet agreed that the CARICOM Treaty requirements will continue, including the six-month entry provision for visitors from the CARICOM states. 

Those who wish to change their status after six months from visitor to worker will, if successful, be required to pay a nominal sum for an Employment Registration Certificate. 

Experts in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Immigration Department and Ministry of Labour will collaborate to ensure that the process is planned and implemented seamlessly.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda discussed the course of action to be taken regarding the more than 600 Africans who arrived on chartered flights from West Africa and have become stranded in Antigua and Barbuda.

Many of the Africans are from Cameroon which is now embroiled in conflict. 

The Cabinet examined the circumstances under which the Antigua Airways flights were conceived and originated. 

Prior to their arrival in the country, it was believed that the arriving passengers would have been financially secure citizens of Nigeria and neighbouring countries who wished to travel to the Caribbean as tourists. 

Their inability to travel onward or return home has brought this into question, however, as according to the Cabinet Notes issued on Wednesday, the Cameroonians remaining in Antigua can be located in several small hotels across the island.

“An offer to return them to their country is to be made, though many are likely to choose to stay. Some arrangement may likely be made to ensure that their status is legal.”

Those people who remain in the country were to have continue their travels on a chartered flight out of Antigua and Barbuda, however this did not come to pass. 

“A well-established carrier known as Air Peace had made a request to commence a regular service between Nigeria and Antigua; the carrier chose to fly to Jamaica instead, since the ECCAA licence was taking a long time,” the Cabinet Notes explained.

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