Editorial | CARICOM single visa makes sense
The logic of Ed Bartlett’s proposal for a single visa for tourists entering Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states is unimpeachable. In fact, it would require only the reverse engineering of an arrangement that has already worked, but which, as tends to be our way in the Caribbean, was allowed to lapse.
And if the CARICOM states no longer have the bits and pieces to put the system back together, or have lost the institutional memory needed to do so, there are examples around from which they can draw. Indeed, they can ask the Europeans for help.
However, we hope that the tourism minister’s suggestion was not one of those loose, sound-good, off-the-cuff statements that politicians too often make in public speeches as ends in themselves, thus lacking the underlying work required for their advancement to public policy. For, given how slowly things usually get done in CARICOM, it would have been good if Prime Minister Andrew Holness had been able to carry the idea to this week’s summit of the community’s leaders as a well-developed Jamaican initiative.
Mr Bartlett made his suggestion for “rationalising entry protocols” at regional borders against the backdrop of the strong post-pandemic recovery of Jamaica’s tourism industry, and his wish to further advance the industry’s growth.
The island’s tourism industry all but collapsed in 2020 at the onset of COVID-19. But last week, Mr Bartlett told The Gleaner that this past June, Jamaica entertained 224,741 visitors. That was one per cent more visitors than in June 2019-20, the pre-pandemic period. In fact, the trajectory for this year, according to the minister, is “absolutely in line with the performance of 2019” for stopover visitors.
That is good news, given how critical tourism is to Jamaica. In good times, it accounts for about a third of the island’s economic output. The industry also employs a similar proportion of the island’s workers, and accounts for over half of the value of exports. However, Mr Bartlett believes that Jamaica could do even better with multi-destination tourism, where a visitor buys a single package but can enjoy several countries in the region. Caribbean tourism policymakers have touted the concept for decades, but without any sustained efforts at implementation.
However, for this arrangement to work efficiently, it would require aligning CARICOM’S visa and entry regimes. Said the minister as he welcomed an international flight at Boscobel: “[This is] for touristic purposes and be provided for visitors coming into your space for 30 days or three days – a simple platform allows everybody and anybody to apply for a Caricom visa that allows you entry into all the CARICOM countries.”
USE SCHENGEN REGIME AS MODEL
This arrangement, of course, would be similar to Europe’s Schengen visa regime that covers 26 countries, including 22 of the 26 members of the European Union (EU), as well as four European Free Trade Areas which are aligned with the EU.
CARICOM, if required, could use the Schengen regime as a model. And if necessary, it could ask the EU for help in designing the system. But there should be no reason for this. CARICOM has done it already.
In 2007 when the West Indies hosted the Cricket World Cup, the region established a single-visa regime to accommodate players and fans to the tournament. Jamaica played a major role in working on that system, which included common security and information-sharing arrangements to address the concerns of the early post-9/11 and narco-trafficking world. Peter Phillips was Jamaica’s national security minister at the time.
Unfortunately, that arrangement was only for the World Cup. It had a sunset clause. These arrangements, though, should not be for special circumstances in a community premised on its progression to a single economy.
If all CARICOM members were not on board with the idea, it is the kind of initiative on which like-minded partners could proceed under CARICOM’s proposed multi-speed system. By now, hopefully, all member states have signed the protocol amending the Review Treaty of Chaguaramas and are on their way to lodging the instruments of ratification with the community to get that multitrack system in place.