Immigration/Customs’ online (C5) form system ‘hacked’; Visitors lured into paying entry fee for free service
THOUSANDS OF unsuspecting visitors to Jamaica are being lured into paying US$35 (approximately J$5,400) to enter the country using the new online immigration/Customs (C5) form by websites that have hijacked the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency’s (PICA) process.
Since September 1, travellers to Jamaica have been mandated to fill out the immigration form online. The C5 form is an entry requirement for persons travelling to the island whether they are residents in Jamaica or visiting.
On Tuesday, during a tour of the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang admitted that as soon as the system went online there were individuals who ‘hacked’ into the system, and started selling the service.
“We’re really having some challenges that I need to mention. As soon as it went online individuals are hacking into the system and selling the service. It works, but it’s not part of what we’re offering. The service is entirely free. It’s to provide better-quality service to our citizens and to ensure that our visitors have a smooth transfer through our airports and have a good experience at the airport,” Chang advised.
He warned Jamaicans and visitors alike to use only the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) www.enterjamaica.com or Jamaica Customs websites to access the forms.
“There are a number of our people who are very smart; we have to try and direct that energy somewhere else more positively but right now they are doing things that are not in our interest.,” he continued.
“They are hacking into the system and bear in mind that when you give them information, you actually give them personal information that can be used otherwise,” the security minister warned.
“We have to advise passengers coming home and other Jamaicans, don’t use any of these illegal sites. Once you enter, you’re supposed to see the emblem of both PICA and Customs. Some of them are quite attractive, but that’s the challenge,” Chang noted.
“It is also proving a bit confusing because a number of complaints are that we are charging for entry to Jamaica. We are not. It is a free site. It is a service to improve our efficiency and quality of service. The fees have gone from US$5 (approximately J$770) to US$30 (approximately J$4,650). They are not part of the system,” he reiterated.
A local destination-management operator told The Gleaner that a family of four were charged CAD$50 (approximately J$5,600) each to access the form in June.
“So this has been happening before September 1, and they told me this was a charge coming from their Canadian travel agent,” the destination-management operator said.
Yesterday morning, a search by The Gleaner turned up five different websites charging fees to complete the online immigration form. One such is the Spanish-based company Online Travel Evisa Society Limited.
On its website, the company purports that the Jamaican Government was involved, noting that the money it was collecting included “government fees for assessing an application”.
The Gleaner was alerted by a Jamaican who was processing her father’s form and came up on the charges.
“I found out because my dad, who is travelling on Friday, asked me to fill out the form. When I went on, it asked me about accompanied luggage, passport number, email address, pretty much everything that is on the form,” stated Jordine McKenzie, who resides in the United States.
She said what was most frightening about the experience was the fact the website had the Jamaican flag at the top as part of its authentication.
McKenzie, like other Jamaicans who expressed concern, feels enough work was not put in to ensure that visitors and locals were briefed properly on how to access the form.
“Not only was there not enough information put out in the traditional media, but there was hardly anything on social media, and even with the bloggers and influencers, who have large followings,” she argued.
The electronic portal is aimed at improving the arrival experience at the island’s international airports, Dr Chang asserts, pointing out that the idea is to offer smoothness and a seamless entry.
“Once up and running properly, you can literally walk through as long as you have no contraband. The idea is to make it easier for Jamaicans who are coming home to get home. It’s a service to the population. In addition, it’s an easier process for the visitors,” Chang stated.
Speaking of how important the tourism sector is as one of the major contributors to economic activity, he said this was the conduit to the country’s economic driver.
Moving a million passengers through the airport in Montego Bay every three or four months is not exactly the easiest process, he argued, noting that doing it manually is a challenging process for people waiting in the airport for two, three hours to get to their vacation destination.
The C5 form, he says, is designed to make the entire process a good one upon entering Jamaica.