A backlog of about 15 000 unprocessed immigrant applications has returned to haunt Government and the country’s health care system, says Minister of Health Donville Inniss.
He told the SUNDAY SUN yesterday his administration had inherited a situation where thousands of applications for varying kinds of immigrant status had not been processed.
He added the Immigration Department had been unable to process applications for both citizenship and permanent residence in a time-frame that would make most interested parties feel comfortable.
“In recent weeks we have been inundated with calls and complaints from people residing in Barbados for many years and who feel that they are entitled to free health care,” he said, explaining Government’s policy had always been that only Barbadian citizens and permanent residents were entitled to free treatment at public state-owned institutions.
According to the minister, Barbados had been very accommodating but the system had been abused. He noted people arrived in Barbados on the pretext of vacationing, incurred hefty health care costs, remained and never settled their bills.
“We also have several instances of fraudulent use of Barbados ID cards. . . . The only thing that we have done differently from the former administration is to insist on an appropriate means of ID being presented to health institutions,” he said.
But yesterday Opposition Member of Parliament Mia Mottley contended that though Inniss might mean well and cost-cutting measures might be needed across the board, the Ministry of Health was not a republic and the Immigration Department another state.
Mottley noted thousands of immigrants were no longer allowed to access free medical care even though they paid taxes and had monies deducted under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). She added that they were now more vulnerable to diseases that could have serious consequences for the whole country.
“We have immigrants who have made applications for up to five years. They pay taxes, NIS and are eligible to vote, but [through] no fault of their own, they cannot have access to the health care system,” Mottley said.
Inniss reported that he had consulted with the ministry responsible for immigration about the number of outstanding applications and sought clarity on how soon they would be processed.
Efforts yesterday to reach Chief Immigration Officer Erine Griffith were unsuccessful.