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Apr 3, 2018

Senate Wrangles over Changes to Immigration

Godwin Hulse

The Senate wrapped up its deliberations on the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill very late last Wednesday. All the bills it has debated are now law, but several of them will continue to spark discussion even so. One example is amendments to the Immigration, Belizean Nationality and Passports Acts. These respectively speak to dividing the functions related to immigration and nationality services, and in the case of the Immigration Act, regularizing the use of the term used to describe the head of the government department responsible for immigration. They passed the House of Representatives and Senate Leader of Government Business Godwin Hulse described it as a streamlining of business. But with the Senate Special Select Committee’s report still outstanding, a member of that Committee, Eamon Courtenay, says the decision is premature at best and insulting at worst to the Committee’s work.

 

Godwin Hulse, Minister of Immigration and Nationality

“Each department would be headed by its own director, to be assisted by a deputy and unit heads as per an organization chart. Border Management and Immigration Services: this department would comprise the uniformed services with responsibility for the following: Belize Northern Border station, Philip Goldson International, Belize City cruise terminal, Belize City port, Belize Western Border station, San Pedro, Dangriga office, Independence office and Harvest Caye, Punta Gorda office and Jalacte, Belmopan Immigration services office – various permits, including extensions, dependent permit, temporary employment permit etcetera, Orange Walk town office, Corozal town office, San Ignacio town office and secretariat for the Visa Vetting Committee. Stations at (a) to (e) are stations which are mainly involved in the recording of arrival and departure of persons into and from Belize. In addition to the above, station Border Management and Immigration Services Department would also be responsible for the Enforcement Unit, comprising an Operations Unit, an Investigation Unit and a Prosecution Unit. Operations include assignment of officers to the Mobile Interdiction Team, conducting checkpoints, border patrol, escort of convicted immigrant offenders to prison, repatriation and work permit inspections – construction sites, bars, [and] restaurants. The investigative unit will undertake interviews for permanent residents, interviews for passports in the case of loss, certain first time issues, interviews for nationality, interviews for visas, interviews in the case of suspect marriages. The Prosecution Unit undertakes the detention of offenders, recording of statements, interviewing of witnesses, escorting of offenders to court, or repatriation, preparation and presentation in cases of court. The nationality and passport department would be responsible for accepting and issuance of temporary border permits and border crossing cards, accepting and processing of applications for permanent residence; acceptance and processing of applications for nationality by registration, marriage or descent; acceptance and processing of applications for passports, acceptance and processing of applications for skilled certificates and be the secretary to the Nationality Scrutinizing Committee. Applications for services which fall under the Passport and Nationality Department in the district towns would continue to be performed through the existing offices in those districts by clerical staff in those stations. The Ministry does not foresee any requirements for additional staffing for the Border Management and Immigration Services Department; however, there would be need for redeployment of five administrative officers from the mainstream Public Service to be deployed as follows: Border Management and Immigration Services Department, H.R. matters; Nationality and Passport Department, H.R. matters; Customer Service, Permanent Residence Unit, Nationality Unit and Passport Unit. It should also be noted that the Ministry intends to request re-designation of the recently approved two posts for Assistant Director to Deputy Director, one for each department.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“Mr. President, I think it is, to be frank, an act of disrespect to the Senate for these amendments to be proposed at this time. The Senate is well aware that a Committee, appointed by resolution of this Senate, to look into the entire processes and activities of the Immigration Department, is well advanced and is now in the process of drafting its report. We heard testimony in this Senate with respect to the organization and the activities, the difficulties and the challenges. We visited the premises in order to see for ourselves the work flow, the staffing and the arrangements. We are now at the point where we have taken all our evidence and [are] at the point of preparing a report to be submitted to this Senate. The justification given to us just now by Senator Hulse of the backlog: your Committee, Mr. President, received testimony on the question of the backlog: we received testimony on how the Department is addressing the question of the backlog. It is noteworthy to me that we did not get any proposal that this bifurcation should take place.”

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