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Director questioned on Schengan Visa

Did you know that any foreigner who has a Schengan Visa, a US Visa or a US Permanent Residency in their passport can enter Belize without a visa? It’s a form of visa waiver that residents of Schengen Member States which include most European countries enjoy.  Holders of a Schengan Visa are also exempted from visa fees which mean that the Government is losing tens of thousands of dollars.

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“What was the policy rationale for that?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“I think you might need to speak with Minister Hulse. You may need to check with Minister Hulse that’s before my time.

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“I will but you are the director so I need to know as the head of the department.”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“One explanation that I got was that these persons have been cleared by these other countries and so as a result of that they have been vetted to some extent. I’m not sure if that’s the only reason but it has certainly eased the travel.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“This decision was taken when you were director?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“No that is before.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“Are you aware whether there is any established arrangement between the Government of Belize or the Immigration Department of Belize to be in touch with the immigration authorities of the European Union to verify the authenticity of a person supposedly holding a valid Schengen?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“ I’m not aware of any formal arrangement but we have on occasion when we’ve seen certain documents sought verification through the respective country embassies.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“So what happens when Mr. and Mrs. Smith turn up here with a Schengen and you look at it and it appears to you to be questionable? What happens?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“They are allowed in. Sorry if they are questionable then this is where we contact the embassy or the office that issued that document.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“That’s not realistic, the person sits around whilst you call who?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“That is the procedure in place, we can’t enter that person. I have no authority to give someone permission to enter unless the visa vetting committee approves it and if a document is questionable then we…”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“No no, I’m talking specifically about these categories, a Schengen so that person will not be applying to Belize for a visa.”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“At the point of entry if that person’s document is questionable in any way they would not be allowed entry.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“You are saying that that person doesn’t need a visa that person does need a visa, that person needs a Schengen or a US visa.”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“Right.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“Which they have paid hundreds of dollars to those governments for. What conceivable policy reason could you give me as to why we in Belize poor as we are would not say to that same Chinese individual, that same German, Russian, French wherever they are from who have paid for a visa that we are relying on for them to enter, why would we not charge them to enter?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“These are not decisions that are made at my level.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“I know but I am trying to understand from the head of the Department of Immigration who in their right mind would decide to rely on a visa issued by another country for them to come into Belize and not charge them but if their sister or brother doesn’t have that very visa they have to apply to Belize and pay money? What is the logic from a revenue point of view?”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“I am not able to answer that question.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“So that’s another one for Minister Hulse.”

Diana Locke – Director of Immigration

“Yes. Those decisions are made at the cabinet level.”

Locke says the best possible alternative is to implement a tourist card for which foreigners will be required to pay a fee.