JIS News

Joan Belfon is the quintessential CARICOM citizen.Born in Trinidad and Tobago to Grenadian parents, she is now living in Jamaica after having taught for years in Anguilla, Barbados and Guyana.
“I’m a Caribbean person. I like living in the islands,” she tells JIS News. Ms. Belfon is proud of her Caribbean nationality and identity and regards her CARICOM Skills Certificate as that which truly authenticates her as a person of the Caribbean.
“I was very happy to get the Skills Certificate. I now have it and can work anywhere in the Caribbean. It represents a formal acknowledgement of my Caribbean citizenship,” beams the dread-locked actress, playwright and University of Technology (UTech) drama lecturer.
Ms. Belfon describes her acquisition of the Skills Certificate as a personal milestone as it has saved her the constant hassle of having to renew her work permit each time she re-entered Jamaica after visiting her home country of Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere.
“Before I got the Skills Certificate, I had to constantly apply for extensions on my work permit and get it repeatedly stamped.sometimes for even short periods, as two weeks. It was a hassle,” Ms. Belfon recalls.
She says that with her skills in the arts as well as her position as a lecturer, she knew she qualified for the CARICOM Skills Certificate and decided to apply for it.
In addition to her need to be able to travel throughout the region hassle free, Ms. Belfon says her desire to acquire the Skills Certificate was also based on her belief in the Caribbean as one community with endless living and working possibilities for its inhabitants.
“Caribbean people especially those from the Eastern Caribbean, have long enjoyed this close kinship. Hopefully, this free movement of skilled labour under the CARICOM Single Market will spread this wider, thus breaking up the insularity that still exists,” says Ms. Belfon.
She recalls a incident at a gas station, where a customer, on hearing her accent said: “Go back home, you hungry.”.
She adds that hopefully, “with more exposure to each other, this type of bigotry amongst us will cease, so that instances such as the recent work permit fiasco involving Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaican workers will over time cease.”
For others like Ms. Belfon, who are intimate with the work permit hassle, the imminent CARICOM Single Market, which is slated for a January 2006 implementation date is welcomed news, since it will allow for free movement of skilled labour.
Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramus, which establishes the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), states that all member states must “commit themselves to the goal of the free movement of their nationals within the Community.”
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Free Movement of Skilled Persons Act, 1997, is therefore a legislation that all CARICOM member states should have in place by December 2005. It allows for free movement of skilled labour for graduates from recognized universities, artistes, musicians, sportspersons, media workers and managers, technical and supervisory staff or self-employed persons.
All these persons can therefore qualify for a Skills Certificate, which allow for free movement across the CARICOM region.
Whilst the Single Market is slated for a 2006 implementation, 2008 is the set timeline for the Single Economy.
According to Veronica Robinson, Senior Director, Work Permits in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ms. Belfon is amongst the almost 400 nationals from CARICOM member states, who have successfully sought Skills Certificates in Jamaica and are working here.
Mrs. Robinson also reveals to JIS News that the application process for the Skills Certificate is fairly simple and takes little time. “You will receive your Skills Certificate within two to three weeks of application once you have submitted the necessary documents,” she says.
Ms. Belfon, corroborates this, noting that, “the process wasn’t difficult. I did my application mainly through UTech. I gave them my passport-sized pictures and my degrees. They then gave them to the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry called me and I went in. They told me to go to the Immigration Department, which granted me a Skills Certificate stamped ‘unconditional'”.
A trained dramatist, Ms. Belfon has worked with the Caribbean icon and Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, Derek Walcott in productions of the Blue Nile and Marie la Veau and as part of the Walcott-formed Trinidad Theatre Workshop. She also performs in and writes dramatic pieces such as her one woman review Till Next Year When I Save Up Some More Money to Play Mas, which played in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Her latest piece Moonlight in the Crossroads is set to hit the stage early next year.
In addition to her work in drama, Ms. Belfon holds a Masters in Communications from the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC). It is this qualification, which landed her a part-time communications position at the HEART Trust/NTA.
“As the CSME and the free movement of labour clause opens up, there’s a better platform to exchange skills and expertise and to ultimately contribute toward the further development of the region,” an optimistic Ms. Belfon says of the Free Movement of Labour under the CSME.