As Guyana’s economy show steady and certain growth, it will only be a matter of time before immigrants from other countries, particularly our neighbours and from the Caribbean, find Guyana an attractive place. Barbadians came in the 1940s and small islanders came in the 1960s. Guyana has proved an attractive home before and it may well will prove to be so again.
The Constitution of Guyana and the Guyana Citizenship Act together contain the laws relating to citizenship. With the exception of wives, husbands or children of Guyanese, who might be non-Commonwealth citizens, the legislation makes no specific provision for ‘aliens’ who are defined in the Constitution as persons who are not Commonwealth citizens.
The Constitution, the Guyana Citizenship Act, the Immigration Act, the Aliens (Immigration and Registration) Act and the Status of Aliens Act together contain an hodge podge of laws that are inadequate to serve Guyana’s needs and leave too much to the discretion of officials. The Government will have to propose legislation to give effect to the President’s announcement. At the same time it ought to consider amendments to the law which are necessary to develop a coherent immigration and citizenship policy backed up by amended laws which take into account developments which have occurred since the Guyana Citizenship Act was passed in 1967, over forty years ago.
The Immigration Act permits an immigration officer to remain in Guyana for three months for several reasons including for the purposes of employment or for trade or business where the immigration officer that the immigrant’s request is made in good faith. The period may be extended from time to time up to a maximum of three years.
The existing legislation offers no direct opportunity to aliens to obtain citizenship after seven years residence. Also it offers no recognized status to aliens, or any other immigrant for that matter, who live here under the various types of permissions or certificates available under the different pieces of legislation. The absence of such a recognized status which will enable residents to leave and enter Guyana at will can cause great difficulty to people who have lived here for long periods. Some such people do not wish to have Guyana citizenship but have live here for long periods, obey our laws, and wish to continue to live here. They may neglect to renew their work permit, or fail to obtain one due to the inappropriate exercise of discretion by an official, or may be between jobs and a work permit may have expired. Such persons, who may have families here, are liable to be deported. Many such persons are brought to Guyana to supply skills which are unavailable such mechanics for heavy duty equipment in the forest industry. Other persons have married to Guyanese and have lived here for years, sometimes decades, and do not wish to be Guyanese citizens for various legitimate reasons but have no security of status.
The Government ought to consider bringing together the legislation, establishing specific rules for aliens, remove discretion from officials and instead set benchmarks to be met on the basis of which decisions are to be made and define a status of permanent residence which can be achieved upon fulfilling certain conditions. A person holding permanent residence for a period of time may then apply for citizenship. On the other hand such a person may elect not to apply for permanent residence.
To the general Guyanese public these matters may not appear to be problems of significance. However, they are. The fact that the President found it necessary to state a policy with respect only to a certain section of the immigrant community, shows that it is an issue of importance. In fact there are many more persons other than the Chinese who are affected and they encounter enormous problems in resolving their problems.
Guyana is today looking for skills. We therefore need immigrants. A broad policy of encouraging the entry into Guyana of skilled persons looking for employment ought to be established. The routine facilitating of work permits, permanent resident status and citizenship, subject to the fulfillment of conditions, should be part of our immigration policy. (www.conversationtree.gy).