House Debates CARICOM Free Movement (Amendment) Bill
During Friday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister John Briceño’s budget was not the only thing on the agenda for the day. Parliamentarians also examined a number of Bills that went for second reading. One of them was the Caribbean Community (Free Movement of Skilled Persons) (Amendment) Bill. The amendments provide for an increase in the categories of qualified persons to enter or remain in Belize to find work. In her remarks, Albert Area Representative, Tracy Panton explained why this is not such a good idea right now.
Tracy Panton, Area Representative, Albert Division: “We talk about the agricultural worker, the domestic worker, those persons who may wish to provide personal care and assistance for persons with disabilities etc, childcare providers, security guards Madam Speaker, and even though the statistics as my colleague said suggest that we’re only now at a 5% unemployment rate that is certainly not the experience on the ground. These are jobs Madam Speaker that I feel Belizeans are amply qualified to take up and I can’t say and it has not been my experience Madam Speaker that these jobs are overflowing to the point where we want to invite nationals from other CARICOM countries to come in and take up these opportunities. Not only them Madam Speaker but their dependents and their spouses can also come and apply and live in Belize with the indefinite stay consideration. Even though we have signed onto the Treaty of Chaguaramas Madam Speaker and we are advocates for the free movement of skilled persons there is no obligation by any government to extent the category of workers unless it feels that the market demands that type of worker to be brought into its economy. I associate my comments with that of the member for Mesop in that we’re still recovering from COVID, there are still many Belizeans who are looking for meaningful employment. I don’t know that we have any vocational programs at the certification level offered here in Belize for Belizeans in those areas that we’re now extending and so nationals that come from other countries will have an advantage because they will have been certified in providing these services to the Belizean population. For those reasons Madam Speaker I am not prepared to support this bill.”
However, Minister of Education and Freetown Area Representative, Francis Fonseca says that this bill looks at the bigger picture and satisfies Belize’s treaty obligations. At the same time, it helps Belize solidify its place in the regional organisation.
Hon. Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “And so that’s what these bills are about fulfilling our obligations as CARICOM nationals, as a leading voice in CARICOM. You talked about Jamaica and Antigua and whatever and every country of course takes into consideration their own circumstances, political reasons, economic reasons but both Barbados and Trinidad have Barbados has done it already, Trinidad I believe is in the process of doing what we are doing here today. Belize is doing our part today so three leading countries in CARICOM as well have embraced this responsibility and is moving forward with these amendments. So both in terms of our treaty obligations, the free movement of skills that has been a long standing commitment of Belize. We now are bold enough and prepared to take action. We talk about you know the scare mongering, you talk about “Oh people will come take your job and all of that kind of nonsense.” that’s absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense. We already have, there are clear requirements under both bills the free movement of skilled persons, the Immigration Bill there are clear requirements that have to be followed as the Prime Minister said there are qualifications that have to be approved in terms of immigration there’s a specific period of time if you’re applying for a definite what they call it period of definite stay that’s for six months a maximum of sixth months indefinite stay, you have to meet further qualifications and that has to be approved so all of that is critically important for the Belizean people to understand.”