Thu | Oct 17, 2019

NO VISA LET-UP - Jamaica has long way to go before UK travel restriction lifted, says Ahmad

Published:Friday | September 20, 2019 | 12:31 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
British High Commissioner Asif Ahmad addresses the media at the British High Commission’s offices in St Andrew yesterday.
British High Commissioner Asif Ahmad addresses the media at the British High Commission’s offices in St Andrew yesterday.

If it were up to Asif Ahmad, the British high commissioner to Jamaica, citizens of the former British colony would no longer require a visa to travel to the United Kingdom (UK).

But since the legal requirement is out of his hands, the country will have to await future reviews if any change is to be made to the travel standard.

In fact, Jamaica would have to significantly improve its risk indicators before even being considered for a removal of restrictions.

“If it was on my wish list, I would much prefer a scenario where Jamaica comes off, but the objective measures that I indicated must start a different trend,” Ahmad said at a luncheon for journalists at his Kingston offices yesterday.

Those measures, he indicated, include making more strides in combating the drug and human-trafficking epidemic as well as avenues that lead to illegal immigration to the UK.

Ahmad explained that Jamaica was placed on the list of countries whose citizens require a visa to travel to the UK because of the linkages to crime and illegal immigration. The problems the UK authorities had with the ‘Yardie’ gangs also factored in the decision.

He said that the periodic review of the UK visa regime was put in place to determine if circumstances in each country have changed to allow the UK to revert to a non-visa requirement status.

“I have had situations where some Commonwealth countries – one in particular that I know of came very close to having a new visa regime imposed – ... took action that made it impossible.

“This particular country had very porous border and airport controls, and it became almost like a market for the trafficking of people. They responded by tightening up that procedure, and the problem went away,” Ahmad said.

The British high commissioner stated that in Jamaica’s case, before the visa regime was introduced, the refusal rate – people being put back on a plane and sent back to Jamaica – was at eight per cent. That figure, he said, was much higher than that of other Caribbean countries.

“And since we have this in place, we have seen, in terms of transnational crimes, a levelling off. In fact, the numbers are beginning to come down. In drug trafficking, people still use Jamaica, but it’s now one of the least used corridors. Traffickers have found other innovative ways of doing what they do,” Ahmad said.

According to him, 85 per cent of Jamaicans who apply for a UK visitor’s visa are accepted.

“What this means is that even though we introduced the visa regime, we have not solved the problem of a significant proportion of people being refused entry to the UK.

“So these risk indicators need to come down, and the day that they do come down will be the day under our normal review process we will say, ‘Okay, fine. Jamaica, you will no longer require a visa to come to the UK’,” Ahmad said.

Further, he said that a visa regime is really not in the UK’s interest as it is a hugely expensive undertaking that carries various bilateral consequences.

“The visa regime really impacts travel of the people, including the prime minister of Jamaica, who will have to queue up to give fingerprints. It’s just a serious hassle,” he said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com