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Visa Waiver causes loss of revenue for Belize

Belize has several visa waiver programs ongoing. Citizens from countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala enter Belize visa free. And while it does attract a large amount of tourists and business men and women, it represents a loss of revenue for the Government of Belize. The matter was raised by Senator Eamon Courtenay during yesterday’s Senate Hearing.

Eamon Courtney – Senator: In your experience is any analysis done in terms of revenue lost?

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“So poor as we are, we are entering into visa waiver arrangement agreements without an analysis of how much revenue we are going to lose?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“Not to the best of my knowledge.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“You indicated a short while ago that you all are looking at an increase in fees and I speak specifically at this time of the Chinese- haven’t the testimony before this committee established that Belize is grossly undercharging for visas for Chinese nationals?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“I am not sure what fees are charged in other parts of the world so I’m not sure if I can equate it to ‘we are grossly overcharging’ but I can say that we had a higher fee at one point, it was reduced I’m not sure why.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“We know that persons who apply for visas are paid to prepare thousands for people to bring the document from Belize City to Belmopan and get it processed on top of the $2000 that they pay to the government that is the clearest indicator that the market will bear a price higher than the government is charging. Would you not support a massive increase in the visa fees for Chinese nationals visiting Belize?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“I would like to first understand first why it was reduced and then perhaps I would be in a better position –“

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“When Senator Hulse comes he will explain that to us but would you not agree with a massive increased based on the live testimony from here, thousands of dollars are paid on top of the $2000 for people who want to visit Belize from China?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“I am sure that whatever fee we charge, if we were to increase that price it would be paid.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“It will be paid?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“It will be paid.”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“Right.”

According to Senator Courtenay and Immigration Director, Diana Locke, Guatemalan visitors have been taking advantage of the system by staying in Belize longer than intended.

 

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“Guatemalans come in under the visa waiver and that visa is valid for thirty days but you are saying that the Guatemalans do not apply for a new visa then to remain in Belize or a permit to remain in Belize which they would have to pay for?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“That is correct. I’m not sure why that policy was put in place it’s something that we are trying to find out more about. I’m not aware if it’s under any of the confidence building measures or the agreements we have but it’s a matter that has been discussed.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“But I don’t understand. So the Guatemalans know that they don’t have to do anything after the thirty days?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“That is correct and apparently it’s a practice at immigration for years.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“And there are no steps to pick up these people who are illegally in this country?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“They are not illegal, they come in to get.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“Oh so you all issue extensions?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“Yes they can come in and apply for extensions –“

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“No, after the thirty days what happens?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“They don’t apply for a visa but they should come in and apply for extensions if they want to stay, they are the only ones that are not required to get a visa in order to get an extension.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“And that is by policy rather than law?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“Yes I would think so, it’s a practice that has been at the department for a substantial number of years I’m not sure why; I’m trying to find out what made that happen.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“And how much revenue are we losing?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“That I cannot say. I have no idea.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“And if they were to apply what would be the fee?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“The hundred dollars.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“The hundred dollars.”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“I’m sure we’re losing revenue from it but that is a decision that has to be taken at another level?”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“So you are saying that those persons are not illegally in Belize?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“No once they get their extensions they are not illegal.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“And they routinely come in for the extensions?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“To the best of my knowledge, from the cases that I have been in contact with through permanent residence applications yes they are getting their extension.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“Finally on this, is there anything actually in writing in terms of that practice or policy in the department?”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“No, not that I have been able to find. All I have is the SI which states what should happen.”

Eamon Courtney – Senator

“Which is not happening in relation to Guatemalans.”

Diana Locke – Director of the Immigration Department

“That’s correct.”