Wed | May 22, 2019

Thousands of foreigners seek Jamaican citizenship - PICA

Published:Wednesday | July 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Director for Citizenship at the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Carol Saunders-Hammond (seated) – discusses details of an application with Administrative Assistant Sharon Samms.
Dr Ehis-Oje Pius Areghan, who is originally from Nigeria, was sworn in as a Jamaican citizen last December.
Chief Executive Officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Andrew Wynter.

The Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) is reporting that more than 10,000 foreigners have acquired Jamaican citizenship over the last 10 years.

Director of citizenship services at PICA, Carol Saunders-Hammond, points to an increase in applications, particularly from persons in Cuba, North America and the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Costa Rica and Panama.

She said that foreigners of Jamaican descent constitute one of the largest categories of applicants, noting that more of these persons are exercising the option of taking up that entitlement.

"Citizenship by descent, as it suggests, means that you must be the offspring of Jamaicans in order to benefit from that process ... and the provision for that goes up to infinity. So, however many generations there are between you and the original Jamaican [migrant(s)], you may make a claim (to take up your citizenship entitlement)," the director explains.

Saunders-Hammond says foreigners with no Jamaican connections, including Commonwealth citizens, are facilitated by registration or naturalisation, noting that there are several prerequisites for consideration.

She indicates that Commonwealth citizens must reside in Jamaica continuously for a minimum of five years, prior to applying.

The director points out that applicants who are aliens of the Commonwealth are required to reside in Jamaica for a minimum of five years, four of which can be aggregated (accumulated), before making their application.

"This (aggregate period) does not exclude vacation or study leave. So you may find a student resident here applying for citizenship by naturalisation but is studying overseas or that someone went on vacation ... we don't break (aggregated periods) for those reasons. But they would be required to live here continuously for the last 12 months of the mandatory five-year period, before applying," she indicates.

Other requirements for these categories include identity verification, by providing a birth certificate and passport; proof that applicants have been processed by the Immigration Division and permitted to legally remain in Jamaica; and compliance with the Work Permit Act, if employed.

"They must present photographs of themselves, bank statements, work permits ... basic documents that would prove they are here legally and acting in compliance with the laws of the land. We don't ask them to provide us with a police report from overseas, but we do look into their background. These are assessed and a summary of the findings is presented to the minister (of national security) for consideration," the director further outlines.


No residential requirement for foreign spouses or minors


Carol Saunders-Hammond, director of citizenship services at the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), who has responsibility for processing all applications for acquiring, renouncing or restoring Jamaican citizenship, said there is no residential requirement for foreigners married to Jamaicans or foreign minors on whose behalf citizenship applications are made.

She explains that foreigners married to Jamaicans may apply locally or in their country of residence, adding that the process also applies to their descendants/offspring.

The director says that in the case of minors, "we look at the extent of the relationship of the parents to Jamaica".

Additionally, Saunders-Hammond says persons born in Jamaica but whose birth was, for whatever reason, not recorded, "must be able to make a written application to the minister of national security supported with documentary evidence to suggest that you ... were born here and have been living in Jamaica ..., and we, thereafter, do a background check".

In that case, she points out, the minister may, in his discretion, approve the granting of a citizenship certificate to that applicant.

Meanwhile, the director advises of plans by PICA to stage another public citizenship ceremony, following the initial event last December.

The event saw 47 foreigners being presented with citizenship certificates.


'I was meant to be in Jamaica'


Citizenship recipient Dr Ehis-Oje Pius Areghan, who came to Jamaica from Nigeria over seven years ago as part of the rotation placement for his medical training, says, "I was meant to be in Jamaica".

"From the very first time I passed through the airport and (came) into Jamaica, the atmosphere (was) just ... like home ... I really felt like I was back home (in Nigeria). The joy and love that I have gotten in Jamaica, I doubt I would ever get it in any other country," he stated.

Noting that opportunities, like being granted Jamaican citizenship, "come with responsibilities", Dr Areghan argues that it is incumbent on all new citizens to "exercise our civic duties, especially to help one another".

Chief Executive Officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Andrew Wynter, described the public ceremony as a "watershed moment" for the agency.

"We have come to recognise that there are approximately three to five million Jamaicans in the diaspora who have descendants, relatives and others who are eligible for Jamaican citizenship. It is our intention to reach out to them to be a part of the family of this our great nation - Jamaica," he said.