Amandala | Information leaked to the media this week indicates that the Barrow administration is planning to grant permanent resident status to an estimated 20,000 illegal immigrants living in Belize, some of whom have also been working illegally in Belize. Speaking with Amandala Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said the move is “recognizing that these people aren’t going anywhere; [so] let’s put them on the road of legitimacy.”
The government had made no official announcement to the public, and there was no statement until we probed the Prime Minister on the matter. Under the program illegal migrants who can prove that they, as well as their children, have lived at least two years in Belize would be allowed to apply. (Legal migrants can apply for permanent residency after living in Belize for a year.)
Barrow said that the program won’t take effect before the start of the next financial year, April 2011. However, the work plan we have seen calls for preparatory work to begin as early as September 2010, with application forms being accepted in the first three months of 2011 – January to March. The program is projected to end June 2011.
The government would have to spend at least a quarter-million dollars to get the program going—the cost for additional temporary staff and equipment and supplies; but the program could generate $3 million to $5 million in revenues to the government. The cost per adult would be $250 and the cost per child would be $100. Each would pay a $25 stamp fee.
There are concerns in some quarters, however, over the motivation behind the immigration amnesty program. (There is no indication that following the amnesty the government would implement a crackdown on illegal immigrants.)
Asked to explain the government’s thinking behind the amnesty program, Barrow told our newspaper that it is a “policy decision” which in his view is “enlightened and necessary.”
How will the government treat Guatemalans who apply for amnesty? Barrow said, “If there are people who had been here with well established roots in our community, I don’t see how they wouldn’t qualify for permanent residency.”
He said that they would have to wait 5 years for citizenship.
“These people won’t be able to vote – you can’t vote unless you are a citizen,” Barrow added.
As to illegal Guatemalans who would be seeking amnesty under the program, and would eventually go the further step of seeking Belizean citizenship, Barrow said: “Guatemalans have to renounce their Guatemalan nationality at the time they get Belizean citizenship.”
Last September, Solicitor General Oscar Ramjeet had written a news article indicating that the government, at the swearing-in of 35 new citizens, had announced an impending amnesty program.
The information then indicated that Belize had sworn in 6,300 citizens over the prior 5 years, with more than 1,500 acquiring Belizean citizenship in 2008.
The Prime Minister said Wednesday that there is a huge backlog in the processing of legitimate applications for Belizean nationality.