GEORGETOWN, There have been notable improvements in the provision of immigration and citizenship services since the Ministry of Citizenship commenced its bid to revamp the system. Not only has the Ministry been able to decentralize a number of its services to far-flung regions, but Minister Winston Felix has also highlighted continued progress with the digitalization of relevant national records and the ease with which citizens can now access passports and birth certificates. When the Minister appeared on a HJ 94.1 radio programme last week, he said what existed previously was an “indecency” at the Central Immigration and Passport Office, where citizens were forced to join lines extending outside of the building, long waits for the document and a difficulty in accessing a birth certificate.
He said President David Granger expressed displeasure with the system based on discussions he had with locals and members of the Diaspora and decided to set up the Citizenship Ministry. When Felix became Minister, he said one of his first assignments was to make the job of accessing a passport easier. “People should not have to come from Parika, and Springlands, and Bartica to get a passport.” The minister said two initiatives were applied: Decentralisation has commenced with Linden receiving a passport office last August and New Amsterdam, last November. Offices at Anna Regina and Bartica are due later this year.
The second plan is the establishment of mobile unit. “With finance being a major concern, I am interested in a mobile facility to move around parts of regions Seven, Eight and Nine.” Felix said in this bid, “we must take the government service to the people in scarcely populated areas and have standard facilities in places like Anna Regina and Bartica and other places being designated townships.”
Additionally, a passport online system is being looked at to especially aid members of the Diaspora. Felix said he has had discussions with his technical team and is currently awaiting a report on the technical inputs required to make it a possibility; “that you can stay from your home and apply for a passport and with one short visit to the passport office, having your documents signed up; you will get your passport.” This is being done within all the security and other required measures.
On the issue of birth certificates, Minister Felix said that he is conscious of the stress that citizens face, while recognizing the checks and balances that have to be done, using the paper system. He noted that any incorrect information provided by the citizen will also see the process taking longer. “In my view, you (citizen) should not have to wait a month to get a birth certificate. So we are working towards digitizing records in the first place. And one of the benefits is having a database from which we can print the birth certificate.”
The Minister said that initially the digitalization of the records was scheduled for three years, but is now being scaled back to two years. He recognized that the information is significant since it includes births, deaths and marriages; and how far back the records are dated. On the matter of visas for foreigners, Felix said he is tasked with putting together an intergovernmental group that will develop a visa policy for Guyana. He said so far, he has received a report on the visa application process, “to give a data understanding of the system.”
According to the Minister, once that is completed the ministry would improve its online presence as to what is needed for a visa in Guyana, the qualities of the various visas, such as lengths of stay involved, entitlements and extensions associated with either a visitor’s visa, business or any other. This, he said, has the potential to improve foreign investment when access to the country’s requirements is easy for the investor. Felix said too that he is aware of allegations under the past regime of visa sales, and bribes demanded for the access of the important documents.