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‘Visa-less’ Antiguans and Barbudans scramble to get back to Canada

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June 27, 2017 Kieron Murdoch,

Scores of Antiguans and Barbudans, including many students who were suddenly barred from returning to Canada — without a Canadian visa — are at this moment scrambling to get the travel permit out of Trinidad & Tobago.

All of those with whom OBSERVER media spoke yesterday, disclosed that they had been caught off guard by the news of the need for the visa. The need for citizens to have the entry requirement has been confirmed by the governments of Canada and Antigua & Barbuda.

One accounting student at St Mary’s University in Canada said the situation was “ridiculous” and was frustrated that she had already bought a ticket to return to the island this summer.

“I’m having second thoughts now that maybe I should just stay up here,” she said, but added that her brother who is also a student in Canada “was supposed to travel back in a week”. The young woman said, “There are a lot of Antiguans up here in the same situation.”

Meanwhile, a business student at another university in Halifax who is in Antigua for the summer said her concern was the “cost factor”. She had no idea what she would have to pay for her visa application and getting documents to the Visa Application Centre at the Canadian High Commission in Trinidad & Tobago.

“I also wonder if this will change the attitude of Canadians towards Antiguans in general and if there are countries in Europe that will do the same thing,” the student said.

When asked if she knew what prompted Canada to take the action, she said, “Well, from what I’m hearing all of this came about from the [Citizenship by Investment Programme].”

The Warden of Canada in Antigua & Barbuda, Terrence Nunes said he has been inundated with calls from people in a “panic” who either planned to travel to Canada themselves and wished to know how the visa requirement will affect them or wanted to know how it would affect their children.

Speaking to OBSERVER media yesterday, Nunes said, “I’m here to help Canadians, not people going to Canada, but I help wherever I can so usually direct people to the Canadian High Commission website and to the office in Trinidad & Tobago.”

He also admitted that he only became aware of the development that very morning after hearing the news on OBSERVER radio.

The news which local officials had confirmed to OBSERVER media was reinforced by a June 26 news release from the High Commission of Canada in Barbados headlined ‘Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda will need a visa to travel to Canada’.

The Canadian authorities also stated that Antigua and Barbuda citizens who are presently in Canada “can continue to stay in Canada for as long as they are authorised to do so”. It added, “Study and work permits, as well as visitor records remain valid. However, those who plan to travel outside Canada and then re-enter will need to apply for a visa to return to the country.”

This means that the St Mary’s University accounting student who spoke to OBSERVER media would have to get a Canadian visa if she left Canada next week and wished to return this summer to continue her courses.

The Canadian High Commission release also said that some Antigua and Barbuda citizens who have already booked flights to Canada may qualify for “priority processing” which usually takes 24 hours.

However, the flight booked to Canada must be departing on or before July 11, and the ticket must have been purchased before today, June 27 – when the new visa requirement comes into effect.

For those who do not qualify for priority processing, the release stated that standard applications “are processed within 14 days”. Nunes said to his knowledge applicants do not have to be physically present at the Visa Application Centre in Trinidad & Tobago, but only need to send their documents.

OBSERVER media also spoke to an Antiguan young man who recently returned home from Canada and holds a recently acquired work permit for that country.

“I know quite a few Antiguans who have study permits who are here for the summer. I just got approved for a work permit so this is an issue for me. But my first thought was that a lot of students are applying for their study permits right now so this creates a backlog because they’ll have to get their visas as well,” he said.

There are also some Antigua and Barbuda citizens who have escaped the visa requirement because they are Canadian citizens or citizens of another country that – like Antigua & Barbuda until 5:30 am this morning – enjoyed visa free access to Canada.

An Antiguan who is a past student of the St Joseph’s Academy studying at Concordia University in Quebec said he has avoided the need to apply for a Canadian visa because he is also a citizen of France and that country’s citizens do not require visas.

Asked for his reaction to the development, the Concordia student replied, “It’s stupid but I sort of knew this would happen. I keep hearing all this stuff about the CIP and how they kept messing around with it.”

Nunes, a naturalized Canadian citizen who has been a Warden for the last 10 years has said, “Personally, I could see it coming. The writing was on the wall,” though he did not elaborate on what he thought drove the Canadian government to revoke its visa arrangement with Antigua & Barbuda.

He said, “[The High Commission of Canada in] Barbados called me but they had only gotten word of it [Monday] morning as well so it was obviously very tightly kept in official circles.”

According to the release, Antigua and Barbuda citizens can apply online for a visa as of 5:30 am on June 27, or submit a paper application in person or by mail to any Visa Application Centre, but it added that the centre in Trinidad & Tobago is the closest.

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