WITH THE announcement of a policy to impose a visa requirement for Venezuelans who want to come to TT, the Government seeks to effectively close the stable doors. The question is, however, whether the horse has already bolted.
Visa entry is standard internationally, equipping states to gather information, screen and manage the flow of people entering through legal ports of entry. However, the situation in Venezuela is one that has been described as extraordinary. There are persuasive reasons to suggest that imposing a visa requirement now is counter the need to address deepening humanitarian concerns. How will the visa policy work? What factors will be considered? What conditionalities?
There is an irony, of course, in this country – whose population comprises people descended from all over the world and whose citizens today frequently settle all over the planet – closing the doors. Official figures suggest about 800 nationals of this country overstayed their welcome in the US alone for 2018.
But in addition to questioning the appropriateness of this measure morally, the biggest uncertainty is more pragmatic. Will imposing a visa requirement actually stop the illicit entry of people?
How does a visa policy address the perception of porous borders, as well as the dangerous trafficking of people across the Gulf of Paria?
What is the expected number of people who may seek to apply for these visas? Will our diplomatic facilities in Caracas have the wherewithal to handle those numbers? Minister of National Security Stuart Young assures an ambassador is not a requirement for any functioning diplomatic office. However, the situation is more fraught than a simple lack of bureaucratic leadership.
Will Venezuelans even bother to journey to Caracas to apply? Venezuelan-born activist Yesenia Gonzales thinks not.
“That place is dangerous. They killing people every day,” she says.
Missing from the overall picture is a long-term policy with regard to those who would like to stay beyond one year; those who would wish to apply for refugee status; and even those non-Venezuelan nationals caught up in this country’s immigration detention system.
The planned commandeering of the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre for the purpose of relieving pressure on Aripo’s Immigration Detention Centre also raises questions as to cost and timeline of implementation.
As the protests mobilised last week suggest, some TT citizens do not want Venezuelans to move here. At the same time, many TT citizens have opened their homes and have shown great compassion to our closest neighbour. What role should public sentiment play going forward when it comes to the management of our immigration policy, if at all? And what role should economic factors relating to the potential boost to the labour market, productivity and consumer spending also play?
The two-week window is clearly over. But many questions remain.