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Dec 7, 2018

Immigration Suspends Fingerprinting at P.G.I.A. During Tourism High Season

There is a boom in tourism numbers, but the growth is causing unexpected challenges at the main point of entry. The number of visitors arriving by commercial flights has outgrown the space at the Philip Goldson International Airport, causing huge delays in their processing. In anticipation of this weekend’s arrivals, the Immigration Department has taken a decision to relax fingerprinting. While that measure is a solution, it poses a security nightmare. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The influx of overnight visitors at the height of the tourist season has everyone involved in the travel industry working overtime in the months of December and January, including customs and immigration officers.  At the respective ports of entry, each visitor must check in at the immigration desk and passport control can be a lengthy process depending on the number of persons in the queue.  For guests who have made hotel reservations in the far-flung reaches of the country, any delay, especially a long wait at the P.G.I.A., like what happened last weekend, is a turnoff.

 

John Burgos

John Burgos, Executive Director, B.T.I.A.

“I believe that the Immigration Department is really trying, not only the Immigration Department but also the personnel from the B.T.B. and the management company of the airport in trying to figure out exactly what was the delay.  We do understand that flights were delayed and many of them came very close together, one right after the other.  So that added on to the pressure, you know.  We do know that structurally, the Philip Goldson International Airport does need to do some upgrades so that they can handle the number of new flights that are coming in.”

 

Those improvements are yet to be made.  Meanwhile, government is attempting to alleviate the problem by waiving part of the check-in process.

 

John Burgos

“We were just informed that the Immigration Department has made the decision to suspend the fingerprinting at the Philip Goldson International Airport, but all other points of entry, principally the land points of entry are going to continue with the exercise.  I’m not sure what the reason is but I do know that they have taken into account some of the limitations that they experienced last year, you know, we had delays of two to three hours so I’m guessing that various stakeholders have been reaching out to the B.T.I.A. and I’m sure they have been reaching out to the Ministry of Tourism and the B.T.B. and Immigration [Department] to see how this problem can be rectified.”

 

The suspension of the fingerprinting process raises concerns of a national security nature, since biometric information collected from each visitor would not be considered complete without a fingerprint.

 

John Burgos

“We do agree.  We’re not disregarding the importance of the Immigration Department in doing their job.  We’ve got to ensure that the persons coming in, we know who they are, that they’re not somebody that’s going to raise a red flag.  You may have terrorists coming through, people with criminal records, some running away from the law and have committed a crime somewhere else and I know that Belize’s standards are based on global standards with regards to airport operations and the expectations of the Immigration Department.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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