K.D. Smith, Contributor
Why is it harder to travel with a Jamaican passport? Is it because as a nation our economy is indexed as 'failing'? Is it because as a nation, Jamaica has a disturbing crime (and murder) rate? Is it because some Jamaicans, wherever they go, make it bad for the honest, hard-working citizens of this nation many call home?
My family and I were, on October 11, 2012, turned back at the Norman Manley International Airport Air Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) check-in counter after my wife and I were told that our eight-month-old son did not have a US visa. It was to be a three-day trip.
A representative told us in his thick Turks & Caicos islander accent that Jamaicans make it bad wherever they go. I resented this statement, but told him our difficulties have been ongoing for hundreds of years for several other reasons. I suddenly recalled a statement from a TCI police officer about Jamaican athletes years ago (while visiting): "They are all cheats." Even with individual talents like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, the image of Jamaica is left wanting.
It is challenging being Jamaican. Still, as individuals, we overcome, as discipline erodes in our nation, and we become a regional dartboard in some regard.
Once upon a time Turks and Caicos was a dependency of Jamaica (1873-1959: for 86 years). Now, we are at a point in our history where holders of Jamaican passports need visas to visit TCI. If my son had either one of the following, he would have been allowed entry: British passport or visa, Canadian passport or visa, US passport or visa (these were the ones recommended to my wife and I).
As proud Jamaican citizens, we called representatives at the booking agency for Air Turks and Caicos, and called a manager at the British High Commission to see if some waiver could be applied. With no success, we were shown the bold print on the itinerary where the airline is not to be held responsible for any expenses incurred because of denial of entry into the country, even though we were misinformed.
There went our precious savings - though we will persevere to reclaim our funds. Miscommunication on the part of the airline, very poor customer service on the part of Air Turks and Caicos, and frustration for the customer is what having a Jamaican passport landed us on the day. My infant son, with his two 'pegs', was the only one left smiling.
After again doing research online, we saw another website (travelvisapro.com) stating that non-immigrant US visas (B1, H1, J1, etc.) were insufficient. Jamaican travellers needed a separate visitor's visa to enter the TCI. This goes against what we were told at the check-in counter. As both my wife and I have US visas, we would still need a TCI visa - that takes two months to process!
In researching, it became clear that many countries are clamping down on Jamaicans travelling to their precious territories. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade should take countermeasures and lift the standard of the entry requirements for Jamaica. Lowering the standard to allow foreigners (of all types) to come here, just to spend, should desist. Programmes where skilled Jamaicans can work overseas and contribute foreign currency, as taxes to the Jamaican gubernatorial body and commercial banks for loan repayment, should be facilitated.
Responsible Jamaicans overseas help to lift our image internationally. Brand Jamaica is good for produce, plus track and field-related sales, but negatively branded for passing through immigration in certain locations.
As for self-discipline, legislation should be amended towards making our youth do national service after passing through our system of public education. Whether it is with the Jamaica Defence Force, National Youth Service, Jamaica Society for the Blind, Cancer Society, Department of Correctional Services, Sir John Golding (Mona) Rehabilitation Centre, etc.
We need to change the international public image and make our land, along with our mindset, more forward-thinking. As holders of Jamaican passports and for people who decide to make Jamaica their place to live, raise families and do business, we all stand to reap the benefits from such changes.
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