Immigration Laws to be Modernized


The country’s immigration laws are to be reviewed and modernized, with the matter now being before the Ministry of National Security for policy decisions to be taken.
State Minister for National Security, Senator Arthur Williams, made this disclosure in his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Upper House yesterday (July 25).
He was referring specifically to two statutes relating to immigration control in Jamaica – the Immigration Restriction Commonwealth Citizens Act, and the Aliens Act, which each have widely varying requirements.
“The Immigration Restriction Commonwealth Citizens Act came in December, 1945 and the Aliens Act in February, 1946, and there has been no major review of those legislations since that time,” the Senator said, noting that the Government would be exploring the feasibility of combining both laws into one statute.
He further informed the House that the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), would be reviewing existing legislation, and in some instances to propose the introduction of new legislation dealing with a range of issues, which include the matter of visas; carriers liability legislation; the obligations of port and airport managers; powers to enforce compliance with entry requirements; and refugee and asylum seekers.
He said other mechanisms to enhance immigration controls, such as the development of Standard Operating Procedures, will also have to be considered, noting that the preparatory work has been done.
“It is anticipated, that before the end of this legislative year, the Ministry will have ready to be placed before Parliament, Bills to amend several pieces of legislation and for the introduction of new legislation in respect of some of those matters I just mentioned,” the State Minister told the Senate.
Turning to the issue of enforcement of the terms and conditions of stay, which are granted to an individual on entering the country, the Senator noted that “there are some persons who are treating our immigration laws with impunity.”
“An individual arrives in Jamaica and is given a fixed period of stay. If that person desires to stay beyond the period given by the Immigration Officer, it is a simple matter of completing an application form, requesting an extension of stay. Normally, persons should apply to the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency for an extension, before the date stamped on their passport, as the time to which they are allowed to stay in the island. These requests are usually granted because generally, they relate to work permit matters or to students at tertiary institutions or to the dependents of persons in those two categories,” he pointed out.
Senator Williams noted however, that if persons overstay, but visit the offices of PICA voluntarily, after the expiry date originally granted, they are usually given a further two to three weeks to leave the island, depending on their country of origin and in that case, the passports of the offenders would be retained by the Agency until they comply, or until they appeal.
“But there are those persons who do not visit the agency at all, to seek an extension of stay. They simply decide to stay as long as they wish, and very often, there is difficulty in locating them, because they move from the address that they give on their immigration or customs cards,” he explained.
“When they are caught up with however, they expect that they must be allowed further time in the country and they do everything possible, to get an extended stay. I do not believe that most of these persons who do this, would treat the immigration laws of other countries, in this manner,” Senator Williams asserted.
He proposed that certain steps be taken to address this matter, noting that the agency is presently preparing an “information sheet”, which will be placed in a person’s passport on arrival, which will outline the conditions on which they are landed. This is being done, he said, so that no one can claim to misunderstand the immigration rules of the country.
“For those who do not seek the extension of stay within the required time, the agency is developing a proposal for a charge to be imposed for the period of overstay. The proposal is for a standard charge for overstay up to 30 days, and significantly higher charges for periods of overstay above 30 days. The intention is that the charges will be set at such a level that it will be sufficiently punitive and thereby prevent the widespread practice of unauthorized overstay. Work is being done on this proposal as I speak, and will be completed shortly,” the Senator informed.
PICA is also proposing to upgrade its border-control management software system, to enable the agency, on any given day, to produce a list of persons whose permitted stay has expired, Senator Williams informed further.
In addition, the agency is establishing an Investigation and Surveillance Unit, which will have specific responsibility to investigate persons who overstay their time. This Unit will work closely with the Jamaica Constabulary Force and will enable the Government to enforce the removal of persons who ignore the country’s immigration laws.

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