Cmcfeature-caribbean-labor-abolition of work permits: an example for regional integration


ST JOHN’S, Antigua, It has been interesting to read the responses in editorials and opinions in some regional media concerning the decision by the two main political parties in Antigua and Barbuda to abolish work permits for nationals of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and the Dominican Republic.

The significant thing in the editorials and opinions is that while they have freely expressed views on the decision made by the two main political parties in Antigua and Barbuda to deal with this lengthy, contentious issue in CARICOM, they have been silent on the attitude of governments and opposition political parties in other CARICOM countries. The exception to this has been the editorials in the Jamaica Gleaner.

There is no question that the two political parties in Antigua and Barbuda have now put the cat among the pigeons in CARICOM. The decision of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and the United Progressive Party (UPP) to liberalize the system by which CARICOM nationals migrate to and work in Antigua and Barbuda, raises questions about how far other members of the Caribbean Community are prepared to go to realize the purposes of the CARICOM Treaty.

The Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda allows its nationals to bestow citizenship on their grandchildren wherever they are born. Many grandchildren from the Dominican Republic took advantage of this Constitutional right to migrate to Antigua and Barbuda. This situation – unique to Antigua and Barbuda – is irrelevant to CARICOM. Therefore, it is not discussed here.

When the Revised CARICOM Treaty was signed in 2001, it committed all the Governments who were its ultimate signatories “to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community .” The governments raised the expectation that their people would be able to travel to each country freely, that they would have a single currency, and that there would be no duties and tariffs on goods moving from one country to the other. That was why the notion of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was born – the nations of CARICOM would become one community and one market. The exception was The Bahamas, which does not participate in the group’s single market and economy arrangements.

Throughout the existence of CARICOM, preceding the signing of the Revised Treaty in 2001, its member states have had a chequered history regarding the acceptance of the movement of people between them. During its previous economic heyday up to 1973, the exemplary country was Guyana, which welcomed Caribbean migrants from the region – a welcome that was taken up by many from Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent who, among other things, became farmers in Guyana’s productive agricultural hinterland.

With its oil and gas wealth, Guyana has once again become a magnet for Caribbean migrants and business people. This time it is nationals of Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago who are flocking to Guyana – not only ordinary people looking for work but business people seeking to profit from selling goods and services.

But in the lean economic times of Guyana, when imports had to be restricted to preserve scarce foreign exchange, and the value of its currency slumped dramatically, Guyanese had a forbidding experience when they migrated to other CARICOM countries to find work. There were unique benches for Guyanese immigrants at the Airports in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago on which they endured confined circumstances before being deported.

Let it be said that the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, the late Barbados Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, and the present Prime Minister, Mia Mottley were the three leaders who constantly stood up for the principles of the movement of nationals within the Caribbean community.

However, Antigua and Barbuda was one of the few countries in CARICOM where Caribbean migration was far more tolerant, while not without its restrictions. The reason was its leadership’s consistent commitment to Caribbean integration, notably Sir Vere Cornwall Bird, Sir Lester Bird, and now Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

Sir Vere was one of the founders of the West Indian labor movement for independence from Britain, dating back to 1947. He conceived of West Indian independence from Britain in the context of a West Indian Federation with all the freedoms and rights for the people that such a federation offered. He saw the West Indian people as one and was deeply disappointed at its collapse, triggered by a referendum in Jamaica. In the referendum campaign, ironically, one of the arguments against the Federation was that “The small islanders would overrun Jamaica.” Today, it is Jamaicans that are heading to the small islands.

For his part, Sir Lester, while upholding the objectives of CARICOM, was a founder of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and was a solid and influential voice for the maintenance by its six independent member states of one currency, one central bank, one judiciary, one civil aviation authority, and one economic space. The complete freedom of movement of nationals within the OECS today is due, in large part, to the leadership given by Antigua and Barbuda. Sir Lester saw the OECS as a successful model of regional integration that CARICOM should emulate.

For all these reasons, Antigua and Barbuda opened its doors to migration from CARICOM countries. Today it hosts people in relatively large numbers from Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines. Many of those people have become nationals of Antigua and Barbuda, and their children are born Antiguan and Barbudan.

One of the lessons for the rest of CARICOM is that migrants have brought value to development. Caribbean migrants in Antigua and Barbuda have contributed towards the transfer of skills and knowledge, and they endeavored alongside native Antiguans and Barbudans to achieve outcomes from which all benefitted. This is reflected in Antigua and Barbuda’s steady economic growth, which reached 8.3 percent in 2022, second only to Guyana with its new wealth in oil and gas.

The decision by the political parties in Antigua and Barbuda gives testimony to the part that the freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals can and does play in attaining regional and national development objectives. It is a giant leap forward and an example to the region.

*Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here