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Gonsalves sceptical of US visa renewals policy


Gonsalves sceptical of US visa renewals policy

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KINGSTOWN – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves believes that not many nationals from St Vincent and the Grenadines would have benefitted from a decision of the United States to people from some Caribbean countries renew their US visas without having to travel, in person, to that country’s embassy in Barbados.

Washington recently announced nationals from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda would not benefit from the new initiative.

The Antigua and Barbuda government has already indicated that “the exclusion is connected to the friendship which the three states have developed with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

“Further, the decision by these three states to adhere to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member-states, has been identified as the principal reason. It cannot be that Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent can be persuaded to abandon principle and a solid friendship, in exchange for a compelled trip by their citizens to renew visas,” the Cabinet statement said.

Gonsalves told a news conference on Tuesday that he has not raised the issue with US officials in Bridgetown.

“I haven’t discussed that with the US authorities,” he said of the policy that will benefit nationals of St Lucia, Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis, the other member countries of the sub-regional organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Gonsalves said he has read the reports that St Vincent and the Grenadines and the other countries are being punished for not supporting United States policy.

“I have read that. But if it is punishment, it’s a kind of a quote-unquote punishment which is really of little or no moment,” he said, dismissing the idea that nationals had been placed at a disadvantage as a result of the move by Washington.

“I really don’t know what are all the factors which went into the decision of the US authorities. I am not going to presume that I know the reason, I am not going to speculate what is the reason. I read like what everybody else read about punishment but I express my opinion that if it is a punishment, it is of such a type and nature that I can’t see it being logical.”

The US Embassy in Barbados said that applicants may have their interview waived if their previous visa expired within the last 12 months and they are applying for the same visa category as their previous visa.

Applicants must be physically in their home country or within the consular district of the US Embassy in order to avail themselves of this option

Additionally, the previous US visa must be in the applicant’s possession, and the applicant must have submitted a 10-fingerprint scan in conjunction with the previous visa application. The courtesy is not extended to beneficiaries of the citizen by investment programmes.

Gonsalves told reporters, “As I read the conditions, your visa has to expire in the last year, you have to send your fingerprints, there are several conditions.

“I don’t know how many persons that are going to be able to satisfy all of those conditions that they require from the countries which they have said have the privilege of not going to the mission — going to Barbados to have their visas renewed. I don’t know how many persons are going to be from those.

“The point I am making, if you are having a policy (and) I am giving an opinion on those who say this is punishment. I am saying if somebody sits up, makes a decision and say, ‘I am going to punish a country.’ That is what you can find? That doesn’t appear logical to me, so I don’t accept the punishment argument . . . . That is the point I am making . . .”

But Gonsalves said that he is aware the relations between the two countries “are good, so I don’t know what got into — what are the reasons for that particular decision”.

“Doesn’t mean at all that in some circumstances it wouldn’t be more convenient for somebody if they are able to satisfy those conditions to have that privilege extended to them. I was raising the question; I don’t know how many persons would be able to satisfy those conditions, which went to the logic of the decision maker to do punishment. So this is why I don’t accept the thesis of punishment,” he said. (CMC)