By Adrianne Jemmott
On May 5, 2009, the Prime Minister of Barbados, The Hon. David Thompson, and his administration made public a new immigration policy. The policy will require that unless undocumented immigrants regularize their status by December 1, 2009 they will be removed from Barbados and returned to their country of origin.
There is amnesty being granted to those who have been in Barbados for eight years prior to December 31, 2005. This new immigration policy has been referred to as an act primarily aimed at Guyanese immigrants. However, it applies to all CARICOM nationals who are not in a legal immigration status.
Barbados has been a very successful state as a result of the implementation of educational and social development policies at the dawn of its independence in 1966. The Barbados national anthem, written by Irvin Bourgie, a Barbadian who also wrote the Banana Boat song popularized by Harry Belefonte, reads partly:
In plenty and in time of need
When this fair land was young
Our brave forefathers sowed the seed
From which our pride has sprung
A pride that makes no wanton boast
Of what it has withstood
That binds our hearts from coast to coast
The pride of nationhood
We loyal sons and daughters all
Do hereby make it known
These fields and hills beyond recall
Are now our very own
We write our names on history’s page
With expectations great
Strict guardians of our heritage
Firm craftsmen of our fate
This vision for Barbados has yielded excellent results and the island has come to be recognized in the Caribbean as a beacon of economic and social development. It is widely believed that because of this steady development, other Caribbean nationals see Barbados as a place where they can come and settle and take their piece of the pie. The problem is, there isn’t that much pie to go around.
The island of Barbados is a mere 166 square miles. In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago are a combined 1,980 square miles and Guyana is 83,000 square miles. When you factor in population growth, environmental concerns, transportation, housing and education, there really is a limit to how much a land mass of 166 square miles can sustain.
Barbados is often the highest ranking Caribbean nation in the Human Rights Development Index released by the United Nations each year. In spite of naysayers, Barbados remains relatively prosperous and did not follow the rest of the world down the road or regulatory lapses that lead to the current financial crises. Therefore, there has been a bit of a buffer provided to this small island state, which also happens to be the place of my birth.
The Barbadians with whom I spoke on a recent trip there hold no animosity toward immigrants from Guyana or any other island state. They often refer to the services provided by Guyanese and other immigrants, as necessary to Barbadian life and acknowledge that many Barbadians don’t want to perform some of the jobs done by immigrant communities. These are the kinds of factors, characteristics and traits that have proven beneficial to the building of the United States into an industrialized society, and these factors are often cited as a positive argument for immigration in the ongoing immigration debate in the United States.
It has been proposed that an immigration policy which results in technology and other transfers from Barbadian to other societies may be helpful to building a more productive Caribbean. However, there are some elements within this immigrant community that tend to participate in criminal acts and activities and it is clear that this element is unwelcomed in Barbados as would be true in any country. In addition, although Barbados is relatively prosperous it cannot support significant burden on the educational and social services that come with the influx that results from immigration.
Thus, my conclusion is that the Barbadian Prime Minister has taken necessary steps, at this moment, to secure the country whose stewardship he currently holds. He has provided for an amnesty program and recognizes the very valuable contribution that immigrant communities make. Prime Minister Thompson has looked down the road and recognizes that Barbados can ill afford to play host to immigrant populations at the current rate. Likely, this is due to projections about the impact of the financial crisis over time. He has, therefore, done the responsible thing by implementing this policy now. It is up to the governments of Guyana and the other Caribbean states to step up to the plate and to create a vision and plan of action for the nation states under their respective stewardships.
Undoubtedly this is more challenging now than at other times. However, governments can always invest in improving the educational attainment of its population. In 2007 Barbados had a 99.7% literacy rate according to Selected Social Indicators for Barbados from the United Nations Statistics Division. The commitment to this objective was implemented in the early 1970s when oil price shock and high levels of inflation were at the center of world news and economic challenges. In spite of challenging times a commitment was made then and can be made now to stem the flow of immigration and lay the foundation for securing a better quality of life. If one small island state can do it…so can any other.
Adriane C. Jemmott, Esq is an Attorney, a Child Welfare Advocate and serves on the Faculty of the John Sperling School of Business. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org