Prime Minister Gaston Browne is taking a wait and see approach to the whole Canadian visa situation before he comments further. For now, he will only state that Canada is free to implement any measure it deems fit to protect its borders, as is its sovereign right so to do. In case you did not know, Canada has now imposed further visa requirements on Antigua and Barbuda citizens. Whereas we were able to apply remotely, we will now have to travel to the Canadian High Commission in Trinidad to submit and complete our visa applications.
If you are wondering what the PM is waiting for, it is the upcoming meeting that our High Commissioner to Canada (and other countries) Sir Ronald Sanders will have with Canadian officials to discuss alternatives to physically travelling to Trinidad. Not much is being said about the meeting, but it appears that we will be seeking some type of special arrangement that will allow us some sort of unique, less burdensome processing. Good luck to Sir Ronald, but we must ask, what makes us qualify for any type of unique privilege?
We lost our visa free status because of our Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP). The administration said that it knew that the visa-free status to Canada would be at risk, but the money was too good to pass up. When Canada pulled the visa-free status that we have long enjoyed, many held out hope that it would be temporary, and we would work hand-in-hand with the Canadian authorities to regain the coveted status. As we pointed out back when the announcement was made, that kind of thinking is naively optimistic. And believe us when we say we know a thing or two about being naively optimistic.
St. Kitts and Nevis was naively optimistic when they lost their status. Like the shocked Antiguans and Barbudans, they held out hope that whatever was necessary to be done to restore their status would have been done, and the visa-free status revocation would only be for a brief period of time. That was in November 2014, and there has been no change in their status as it relates to visa-free entry to Canada.
It does not take a genius to see that Canada does not like Citizenship by Investment Programmes. Although there was a slight difference in the messaging, the underpinning reasoning is the same – border security. Canada is of the opinion that Antigua and Barbuda’s CIP does not meet their strict requirements for vetting and, as such, they cannot rely on the programme to eliminate the risks of bad actors securing passports and then utilising those passports to easily enter Canada.
We must remember that this criticism is coming from one of the most immigrant friendly countries in the world; one that had its own federal immigrant investment programme and has at least one provincial investment programme. So, if we have sunk so far down the trust list with Canada, we have little hope of clawing our way back to the top. That said, we will gladly congratulate Sir Ronald or PM Browne if they are able to pull off this trick.
None of this is intended to dissuade the Government from trying to restore our visa-free status, but the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has made it clear that if Antigua and Barbuda wants to be re-assessed, then we have to make significant improvements and changes to our CIP programmes. Only then, can we ask the Canadians to have a look at lifting the visa requirement. Have we done so? If we have, what changes have been made that we think are so dramatic that the Canadians will welcome us back into the visa-free fold?
We suspect that will be the first question posed to Sir Ronald in his meeting with Canadian authorities, and if he does not have a very good answer, then the follow-up discussion will be very uncomfortable. It all stems from the political spin employed to make the revocation of visa-free travel seem like a nothing. The PM said it was an aberration that Antigua and Barbuda enjoyed visa-free status with Canada, and statistics were spun to show that the impact only affected a few people. The propaganda will now have the Canadians pointing to the obvious, which is the strong desire for visa-free status has little to do with the people of Antigua and Barbuda but is more for the CIP.
Why, if this was an aberration and such a nothing, is the Government so desirous of easing the necessity to travel to Trinidad for a few to comply with the biometric and other requirements? If so few people are affected, why worry? Sir Ronald had better prepare well because he will have to defend his requests in the face of what the Canadians will likely see as a simple ploy to ‘upgrade’ our CIP offerings. Remember, that previous aberration was one of the key things that made our CIP so desirable. If we were able to have a unique, less burdensome application process, we will once again be able to use an aberration to our CIP advantage.
Sir Ronald is a seasoned diplomat, and the Canadians are overly polite, so we are sure that the meeting will be cordial and politically correct. Unfortunately, we do not hold out much hope that it will bear fruit. That said, we will be overjoyed if it does.