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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle


Confusion from Trinidad

See the 2 prior blog entries for the prelude to this blog.

Also, from the Trinidad Express:

Narace slams Kamla for 'untrue statements'

AMBASSADOR Jerry Narace yesterday slammed statements made by Opposition MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar which she attributed to him, as untrue, describing them as most unfortunate.

Narace who heads Trinidad and Tobago's Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted Persad-Bissessar's claims in a release issued by the Unit.

"Mrs Persad-Bissessar claimed that the head of the Unit had disclosed that there were 2,000 applications for jobs by Caricom nationals to work in Trinidad and Tobago. "This is completely false as the head of the Unit alluded to the fact that as a region as a whole, there were a total of approximately 2,000 applications for certificates of recognition of Caricom skills qualification. "The correct number of skills certificates issued by Trinidad and Tobago to all the various member states at last count was 719 - Antigua and Barbuda 13; Barbados 71; Belize 2; Dominica 33; Grenada 26; Guyana 114; Jamaica 191; St Kitts and Nevis 7; St Lucia 46; St Vincent and the Grenadines 29; Suriname 19 and Trinidad and Tobago 168."

OK, well enough. But I thought that those numbers looked small. 2000 people in the entire region have applied for Skills Certificates? And 719 of them were awarded in Trinidad alone?

From a Jamaica Observer report, it is clear that Jamaicans have little interest in getting this legal permission. Only 78 Jamaicans had applied through November of 2005.

On the other hand, in Jamaica itself, a whopping 400 Caribbean nationals had applied, presumably while living here and probably already working. Of that number, 147 Trinis had applied.

While this is not what Louise Bennet called "colonisation in reverse" it is something like "colonisation through the back door." Trinis are clearly more interested in working in Jamaica than the reverse. Given the current labour shortage in Trinidad, this strikes me as lopsided.

My alarm bells really started to ring, however, when I checked the archives of the Express and found the following:

Caricom Single Market a reality
Caricom passport by March 2006

Jerry Narace

Head of the CSME Unit, in Trinidad, Ambassador Plenipotentiary Jerry Narace has also revealed that to-date some 2000 Caricom professionals have applied to the CSME Unit in Trinidad for certification to allow them to move freely for work and business purposes in the country.

Narace said of this amount just over 700 have been approved thus far.

"In Trinidad we have approved 13 from Antigua/Barbuda, Barbados 71, Belize 2, Dominica 33, Grenada 26, Guyana 114, Jamaica 191, St Kitts/Nevis 7, St. Lucia 6, St. Vincent 29, Suriname 19, while we have awarded T&T nationals 168 certificates," Narace revealed.

Wha???? Two months earlier the newspapers reported Narace as saying the exact opposite?

Now, the newspapers could have gotten it all wrong, as could the MP, Mrs Persad-Bissessar. He could have been misquoted in January.

In fact, the CSMETT website says the following:

So far, some 2,000 applications have been made for Skills Certificates, and Narace said to date just over 700 certificates have been awarded to allow Caricom nationals to enter the labour market in the region. Current statistics show that more Jamaicans have applied and have been approved to work in Trinidad and Tobago.

It might be just me, I have no idea what this is saying, and I could see how the Opposition MP and the newspapers could have gotten confused.

That 2000 number looks small to me -- it says that only 2000 of people have been interested in getting the certificate throughout the entire region of some 14 million. Not a great start.

If the numbers are to believed, then the 700 plus certificates awarded up to that point in Trinidad alone is a reflection of the great job that the Trinidadian government has been doing in getting the word out. Assuming that perhaps another 300 people were either rejected, or "in process," then Trinidad accounts for maybe half of all the CARICOM Skills Certificate activity.

Here is another report from 2004 that sheds some light on the issue, from The Trinidad Express of May 30, 2004:

Trinidad and Tobago stands to be the greatest beneficiary from the free movement of skilled labour envisaged under the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), according to Ambassador Jerry Narace.

To support his claim, Narace noted that in 2003 about 126 Trinidad and Tobago citizens went to work in Jamaica, while only 40 Jamaicans came to this country.

He added that the same situation applied to Barbados.

It sounds to me as if Narace is trying to have it both ways in these statements, and maybe that might extend to the Trinidadian government. Clearly, he sees Trinidad being "the greatest beneficiary." He cites the gap between the number of certificates being granted as evidence of that.

While Jamaicans are, by and large, more interested in working on Miami, Toronto or London than Port of Spain or San Fernando (where??) it seems that the Trinidadian government might be, perhaps unwittingly, making it easy for their own workers to work where they want, while making it more difficult for other workers across CARICOM to work in Trinidad. See the letters to the press listed here.

In my prior blog, I mentioned another altercation between Persad-Bissessar, in which she accused the PNM government of using CSME to upset the balance of political power in the country.

It seemed to me, an outsider, that Narace seemed to back-pedal under pressure from Persad-Bissessar, and appeared to try to minimize the numbers of workers trying to work in Trinidad.

The reality seems to be that it is harder to gain the certificate to work in Trinidad than anywhere else. This would fit neatly into the need to the PNM government's need to a) demonstrate that they are not trying to gain an advantage and b) show that Trinidad is benefiting the most from CSME by widening the gap between its own emigrants and immigrants.

From a Jamaican point of view, whatever jaundiced view we have of Trinidad only gets reinforced. Many businessmen remember the difficulties in the 1970's and 1980's of trying to do business in the twin-island republic. What seemed like a friendly welcome turned into a mess of red tape and bureaucracy (which from all accounts, makes Jamaican bureaucracy look tame.)

More recently, Jamaicans have welcomed Trinidadian ownership of key financial institutions and industries, and it seems to us that we have welcomed Trinidadian workers to our country, giving out work permits and accepting certificates at face value.

Do the recent reports of Jamaicans facing difficulties in getting legal permission to work in Trinidad represent a lack of reciprocity? Is it more of what our businessmen faced two decades ago? Is an apparently open welcome to come work in Trinidad turning into another mess of confusion when the offer is actually accepted?

A colleague of mine has a joke about Trinis -- "they are all ready to invite you to come down to Carnival, and tell you how they will show you a good time and not to worry, because they will take care of everything -- the lime will be great! Then, when you actually arrive at the airport the week before Carnival with your two suitcases, standing at the curb looking around for them...."

Jamaicans who have dealt with Trinis get the joke (although a Trini may not.) A Trini might well laugh it off, and make light of the various mishaps, but the truth is... we Jamaicans do take these things VERY seriously. In Jamaica, the term "Trickidadians" is still being used, and this situation is starting to look at lot like something quite familiar to us.

But as someone who is married to a Trinidadian, I can say that I cannot see malicious intent here.

But no matter -- the Trinidadian government should either encourage free movement of labour, or not, and let the region and its bureaucrats know accordingly. At present, there appears to be some "mamaguy" (a form of Anansi-ism) at play.

Trinidad would actually have "the most to gain" if it were to look to relieve its current labour shortage by lowering the barriers to importing skilled immigrants, not raising them. Talented people bringing valuable skills are not a handicap, they are a potential benefit.

To do otherwise is to risk being seen as taking unfair advantage, and appearing "tricky."


  • I agree with what Francis wrote and I think that “the Trinidadian government should either encourage free movement of labour, or not, and let the region and its bureaucrats know accordingly.”

    I am a Jamaican who is living in Trinidad and my experience was similar to that of the person who wrote a letter to the Jamaica Gleaner on August 6, 2006. (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060806/letters/letters1.html )

    Like the writer of the letter to the Gleaner, I was told that the Certificate of Recognition of Caribbean Community Skills issued in Jamaica would allow me to work in Trinidad without any problems. I went through the application process in Kingston, providing them with all the required documents and was issued my Skills Certificate in Jamaica.

    Upon arriving in Trinidad, I discovered that the Certificate issued in Jamaica only allows an individual to live in Trinidad for six months, and employment is not permitted in Trinidad during that period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Trinidad advised that the six-month period is actually to be used to "regularise your status" in Trinidad. ( i.e. apply for a Skill Certificate all over again in Trinidad). This seems very unfair to me, especially considering that, from my understanding and what I’ve been told, Trinidadians who go to Jamaica with their Skill Certificate issued in Trinidad are allowed to work there immediately.

    In order to seek clarification, I went to the Jamaican High Commission in Trinidad. They were very helpful and professional and expressed a lot of concern about my case. The Jamaican High Commission was also of the impression that the Certificate issued in Jamaica was valid and would allow me to work in Trinidad immediately. Francis recently got in touch with a representative of the CSME who informed him that “a Skills Certificate issued by another country other than the receiving country also entitles the person to start working immediately, notwithstanding the right of the receiving country to verify” and I think the Jamaican authorities were of the same opinion.

    Nevertheless, I applied for the Skill Certificate in Trinidad in order to “regularise my status.” There is a committee in Trinidad that meets only once a month to review applications, and mine did not make it in time for the first meeting (I applied a few days before that meeting). My application was approved at the second meeting (around June 30) but the Certificate wasn't issued at that time because the Minister was not able to sign it until some time in early August.

    I went back to work in Jamaica during the application process since I was not able to work in Trinidad and could not afford to casually sit at home for two and a half months doing nothing. Fortunately for me, I am employed to a Jamaican company with a branch in Trinidad; otherwise I would have been without a salary for two and a half months. When I returned to Jamaica I had to find accommodation and transportation, not to mention keeping up with rental and utility payments associated with my accommodation in Trinidad, despite the fact that I was not there. This useless process resulted in severe inconvenience, lost productivity and unnecessary costs.

    I returned to Trinidad once I was informed that my Certificate was finally ready. However, after collecting my Skill Certificate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Trinidad I was informed that I was still not allowed to work.

    This is because medical forms, including an x-ray had to be completed by a doctor. I got these forms completed as quickly as possible and went to Immigration to get my passport endorsed only to find out that my trip to Immigration was actually to set an appointment to meet with an Immigration Officer at a later date. They initially scheduled me for September 18, but I protested and got it moved up to August 17.

    My appointment on August 17 was for 10 a.m., but I wasn’t able to see an immigration officer until five hours later. They then sent me across the road to get a photocopy of the Skill Certificate issued in Trinidad (at my own expense) and stamped my passport after I got the copy.

    The stamp still said "employment NOT permitted." Upon noticing this I went back to the officer and asked for an explanation. He simply took the passport and crossed out the word "not". When I mentioned to him that anyone with a black ink pen could do that, he decided to initial the place where the word "not” was crossed out and he also made a reference to the Skill Certificate number in the passport.

    After all of that was completed I asked if there is anything else that needed to be done and if I was fully legal to work and travel in and out of the country as often as I pleased and he said "that is what the law says." So apparently I am now legal to work in Trinidad.

    The truth is that the Jamaican Skill Certificate serves no real purpose in Trinidad. In my opinion this is a deliberate policy to discourage Jamaicans (I’m speaking from my experience but it may be all foreigners) from going to Trinidad. As far as I’m concerned, the system designed to frustrate people coming in to Trinidad is set up to operate as a "non tariff barrier" to the free movement of labour/skills.

    I spoke with another Jamaican in Trinidad, and apparently there is a way to avoid most of this hassle. The solution is not to bother to apply for the Skill Certificate issued by the Jamaican government, but to go to the Trinidad High Commission in Jamaica and apply for their Skill Certificate there before going to Trinidad. To really be on the safe side, it would probably be wise to apply for both Certificates simultaneously from Jamaica.

    I thought that I had been through a lot before, but this was the most bureaucratic and inefficient experience I’ve had to endure and I hope that no one else has to suffer through it. I think there needs to be a clear, consistent procedure that is properly communicated and enforced so that CARICOM citizens can carry on with being productive and concentrating on the development of the region.

    By Anonymous Justin Nam, at 8/19/2006  

  • Justin,

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

    It seems as if there is a tremendous gap between the programme as advertised and the actual reality on the ground.

    The actual reality is not being reflected anywhere in the region. In fact, this blog, and CaribHRForum, are the only attempts that I can see to reflect current reality (other than the odd letter to the editor.)

    By Blogger fwade, at 8/20/2006  

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