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OECS officials develop plan to ease inter-regional travel
CASTRIES—The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is considering a model similar to the Schengen states of Europe where travellers are cleared at the initial port of entry to continue travelling seamlessly within the sub-region.
This is one of the major suggestions coming out of a recently concluded working session in Antigua for Chief Immigration Officers and Comptrollers of Customs from the OECS to develop an Action Plan to facilitate ease of travel not only for OECS citizens but also for visitors to the OECS region.
Dr Loraine Nicholas, programme officer for tourism at the OECS Secretariat, stated that the essential measures proposed by OECS border control officials to facilitate ease of travel include full clearance of travellers only at the initial port of entry.
“In our efforts to facilitate ease of travel within this single shared space of the economic union area there are two dimensions that we need to bear in mind: One is the free movement of OECS citizens which is a treaty right conferred upon OECS citizens and which OECS Member States are therefore obligated by treaty to comply with.
The other dimension is the ease of travel into and within the OECS space by visitors coming into the region which in essence is a matter of choice rather than of obligation. So conceptually therefore the treatment of both visitors and OECS citizens may for the most part be similar.
“However as it relates to visitors, one of the recommendations coming out of our OECS Tourism Policy which was developed in 2011 is for visitors to the region to undertake full clearance procedures, that is customs and immigration only at the initial port of arrival in the region and then for them to be able to move relatively easy to other Member States on that same trip,” explained Nicholas.
Some of the other essential measures proposed by OECS border control officials to facilitate ease of travel included: harmonisation of procedures to collect departure taxes; electronic collection and sharing of E/D card data; harmonized standard operating procedures and improvements to service quality at OECS borders; standardisation and compatibility of software to enhance information sharing; and harmonisation and consistent application of risk management principles.
The OECS regional consultative workshop to improve ease of intra-regional travel is the first tourism-related activity out of a series of planned interventions geared towards implementing the recommendations related to the harmonisation of tourism policies contained in the OECS Common Tourism Policy.
“At that meeting in Antigua and Barbuda we basically discussed the various actions and interventions necessary for us to facilitate this ease of travel while of course ensuring that the security of our borders is not in any way compromised,” said Nicholas.
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