In an interview with the Sunday Newsday, various immigrants, who claimed they were not illegally in this country, said the Immigration Division was glaringly inefficient in dealing with its paperwork when it came to aliens.
These immigrants also accused Immigration Officers of being corrupt, and drunk on either power or laziness, taking their own sweet time to extend work permits, postponing interviews, or changing requirements and criteria without giving reasons.
The immigrants say that such actions by immigration officers cause aliens to fall into the illegal category when their documents expire. None of the immigrants interviewed were willing to give their names for this story.
On Tuesday last, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said there were 110,012 illegal immigrants in TT with the highest number coming from Guyana, and the second highest number from Jamaica.
Previously, in a press release, Griffith said there were over 19,000 Jamaicans who were in the country illegally, that they were dependent on State resources, and are not subject to taxes “which amounts to a loss of revenue of over $1 billion per annum.”
While the immigrants interviewed told Sunday Newsday that Griffith may be correct with his figures regarding the number of illegal immigrants, they disagreed that they were costing the State the amount of money he said they were.
In fact, they believe immigrants on the whole have helped contribute to this country’s growth.
One Guyanese immigrant, who said she had legal status, contended:
“It’s not fair how they (immigrants) are being talked about. Immigrants, especially those without their papers, keep their head down and simply try to make a living.”
She said illegal immigrants do not contribute to crime but work hard and contribute to the country’s economy and citizenry through the sale and purchasing of goods, payment of rent, and doing jobs locals may not want to do.
“They (the authorities) are not thinking about things in the right way. They are only concerned with the negatives. Ask them who built this country!” she said heatedly.
“Except for the few buildings the Chinese built, ask them who built the Hyatt, Parkade, and those government buildings in Port-of-Spain! When you went on those sites it was only a set of foreigners!” she continued.
She said Government was not paying for immigrants’ medical needs nor for their children to attend school. Instead, she declared that it was citizens of TT who “leached” the country by living off government grants.
She also denounced the practice of deporting illegal immigrants whose children were citizens of TT, advising that this contributed to youth delinquency, and possibly crime, in addition to destroying families.
A Nigerian immigrant, who said he has lived in TT for several years on a work permit, said over this time he has experienced delays at various times with his documentation, all because of the workers at the Immigration Division.
“I know some people they are calling illegal immigrants who are only so because Immigration is not co-operating. You go in and one person tells you that you need certain documents but when you come back, someone else tells you something different. These people are just saying what comes to their mind! They don’t know what they are doing. They are the ones that are creating the problem,” he said.
“I know people who have gone for their interviews and then told their files could not be found even though everything is supposed to be computerised. And that PSA (Public Services Association) strike that took place earlier this year, that has everything backed up. By the time people get through with an interview, their documents have expired,” he said.
One Nigerian immigrant, who works as a security officer, queried Griffith’s calculation of how much illegal Jamaican immigrants were costing the State.
“I want to know how he came up with that figure. Are these illegal immigrants working in the Prime Minister’s Office? The math doesn’t add up,” said this man.
One Jamaican immigrant who said he applied for residency since 2009 when he first came to TT, influenced to move here by a Trinidadian woman whom he met in the United Kingdom, said he had a number of delays with his residency application, including the loss of parts of his files and delays in his work permit extensions over the years. He claimed he has refused to pay officers to fast track this application for residency status.
A certified electrician now working as a security guard, he claimed that on several occasions he was denied the extension, officers refused to return his passport and instead told him he was “under supervision”, advising him not to leave the country.
“When that happened I felt like a suspect, and the hard part is that they refused to give me a reason for it. Now (they say) I can leave the country and I have gone home a few times, but I have two children here and I don’t want to leave them permanently,” he said.
He recounted various instances when Immigration delays were just nonsensical. Once when his work permit was denied, an Immigration officer gave him a document with a date to return but by that date his passport would have expired.
Other times, he said, he would arrive for an appointment to extend his work permit and it would be promptly rescheduled, many times to a date beyond the work permit expiry date.
“That piece of paper does not go on your passport, so when you go to the bank or looking to get a job, they see that you are overdue and that raises questions and causes difficulties because they think you are here illegally. Then, when you return for your appointment two months later, they stamp it up without checking anything and finish in no time. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have done that in the first place,” he said.
This immigrant advises Griffith to investigate why persons are categorised as illegal. His belief is that 90 percent of the time, it is the fault of the Immigration Division.