Fri | Aug 18, 2017

No visa-free travel to European Union for Jamaicans

Published:Sunday | December 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Gilbert-Roberts

Jamaica will not be joining a number of other regional states which have applied for visa-free travel to the so-called Schengen area made up of 26 member states of the European Union (EU).

Responding to concerns from members of the private sector and the cultural community, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade last week told our news team that Jamaica is not yet prepared to apply for the visa waiver.

According to permanent secretary in the ministry, Ambassador Marcia Gilbert-Roberts, Jamaica is not

considering an application now, since the EU has placed a general suspension on applications for the visa waiver.

"With that kind of scenario, we are not comfortable that it is the time for us to submit an application. That is where we are. But it is certainly not something that has been ruled out. We need to continue to monitor it," said Gilbert-Roberts.

Added Gilbert-Roberts: "The Head of the EU Delegation in Jamaica has been extremely helpful. We collaborate very well and she has also agreed to work with us in seeking some more information regarding any amendments to the policy of the suspension."

 

BAD TIMING SAYS DIPLOMAT

 

Gilbert-Roberts' comment came days after Malgorzata Wasilewska, the EU's top diplomat here, told journalists that Jamaica has never submitted an application, and suggested that doing so now might be problematic, given recent moves to tighten borders in the EU in the face of its refugee crisis.

Wasilewska also suggested that Jamaica failed to act when a deal might have been easier, even as she noted the complexity and the time-consuming nature of the application process. "The country has to fulfil certain

conditions, submit an application then it is processed in Brussels (EU headquarters). It is, of course, a long process, and then a full waiver can be granted."

Local artistes and business leaders in Jamaica have expressed surprise that the Government has never applied for the visa waiver, which Gilbert-Roberts insisted would not be of much benefit to people who want to work.

"I think it's something that we definitely need to have. It makes it easier for people who want to do business overseas, in Europe. I'm sure it's going to be a lot less costly than individual application," said Dennis Chung, chief executive officer of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

 

BUILDING TRADE RELATIONS

 

He added that with Brexit (Britain's vote to leave the EU), there's an even greater need to build trade relationships with the rest of the EU, and Jamaica applying for the visa waiver could help the process.

Lydia Rose, managing director of the Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers has said getting the visa waiver, and on favourable terms, would be a major step in helping artistes spread their work while increasing their earnings. "For our members, it would be extremely important to them. It would ease all the obligations, and especially for those creators who are not well known, it would actually help them in how they grow in their business. Europe is our biggest market, especially for reggae."

Named for the Belgium town where it was signed three decades ago, the Schengen agreement removes border controls between 26 European states. But important for countries outside the Schengen region, entry to one country with the visa allows travel to the others.

Last year, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago, signed visa-waiver agreements with EU. Under the deal, nationals of the Eastern Caribbean countries can travel to Schengen area for a stay of up to 90 days within any six-month period, without requiring a visa, as long as the purpose of the visit was not to carry out a paid activity.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com