A two-way street

President Paula-Mae Weekes - AYANNA KINSALE
President Paula-Mae Weekes - AYANNA KINSALE

PROCLAMATION of legislation which will make it easier for skilled workers to move within the Caricom region is a welcomed development which nationals should embrace and take advantage of, not be skeptical about.

The amendments to the Immigration Act, signed into law this week by President Paula-Mae Weekes, will do more than benefit the additional classes of workers who will now be able to work without a special permit.

The changes will deepen efforts at economic integration and can aid efforts at economic stimulation. That’s a good thing, regardless of one’s views on immigration.

In addition to university graduates, artists, musicians, media workers and sports people who were already permitted free movement, several new classes have been added. These are agricultural workers, security guards, beauty service practitioners, barbers, non-graduate nurses and non-graduate teachers.

Critics of the law have argued the changes mean there may be more competition for jobs locally, which could deprive nationals of opportunities. The Opposition has also raised the question of voter padding.

Whether or not such concerns are valid, they are balanced out by taking a broader look at things.

The changes mean locals are free to move elsewhere, which increases opportunities instead of reducing them.

Additionally, with a long history of brain drain which has, over decades, seen some of our best and brightest workers leave for larger countries, the changes could pave the way for a vital infusion of talent, one that benefits the region as a whole and stimulates economic integration.

While this country’s labour force participation rate increased last year to 55.2 per cent, the overall trajectory has been downward.

This downward trend is likely to continue as more and more members of the population age out of the labour market and more and more people are institutionalised or incarcerated due to a spiralling crime rate.

In the coming years, we will need more skilled labour.

It’s also important to note that teachers will also be included in the new scheme.

This comes in the wake of high-level engagement on this issue within Caricom, with the Caricom secretariat this month launching a programme to place 19 teachers on two-week attachments to secondary schools in this country, Barbados, Belize, Guyana and St Kitts and Nevis.

The need for even more skilled teachers within our education system is palpable, especially when it comes to special needs children.

It is also important to note that the State, having passed this legislation, cannot simply pat itself on the back and move on.

There is a broader issue of the need for skilled workers, of whatever nationality, and in both the public and private sectors, to be adequately paid commensurate with their skill levels. For such workers to stay, that is the real change that needs to occur.


"A two-way street"

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