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Govt must be humane on A-2 visa issue

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Maraj says the Government must be humane in seeking to discontinue the requirement for A-2 visas to be granted nationals working at the New York consulate. Maraj said that in the wake of a recommendation by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to not renew expired A-2 visas for workers at the consulate. This stems from the unresolved dismissal of eight workers at the consulate in June 2012. The workers have taken legal action against the Government, seeking to be compensated for the dismissal. An A-2 visa is a diplomatic, non-immigrant one which allows foreign accredited officials outside of the diplomatic category to enter the US and work with their government. Maraj, who served as minister in a PNM Government, said yesterday such visas have benefits. 


He said locally hired staff from the country in which the mission was located would eliminate the need to provide housing for them which would be required if staff were hired from T&T.
Maraj said the matter could be resolved if certain basic principles were observed. He said T&T “must not do anything illegal in the US, we must comply with the US law and we should not in anyway jeopardise our relations with the US.” According to Maraj the Government “must ensure that the consulate is properly staffed with competent trustworthy individuals who can carry out the work of the mission.” Saying there should be no abuse of the system, he insisted: “Nothing should be done to give any unfair advantage to any person or group of people. “If in the light of what has been happening, any adjustments have been made, the Government should be as humane as possible in the treatment of those individuals who are affected.” He said the Government has a responsibility “to be humane to people, especially nationals of T&T.”


Former head of the foreign service and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lenore Dorset said it was not too late for mediation in the matter to ensure the dismissed workers got their just due. She said so in a statement to the media on Sunday. She said mediation, in good faith, should be done “to ensure that all those persons affected, locally recruited staff as well as A-2 visa holders, receive, at the very least, the monetary compensation and conditions of service for which they have legitimate expectations and right.” According to Dorset, restoration of reputation in the matter of law-breaking was another matter. She suggested that focus should be on attracting and keeping the best staff, at every level, as it was critical to attaining the Government’s policy objectives in international affairs. She called for wisdom to prevail in the matter. Noting she had followed developments in the matter over the past several months, Dorset said a country could choose from the legitimate options available to it in recruiting staff for its overseas Missions. She added, however, that If it decided not to use A-2 visas, that was its sovereign right.


Insisting there was no such thing as an “illegal visa” which was used in discussion on the issue, Dorset said: “That is an oxymoron.” Dorset said it was unclear whether Ramlogan had the benefit of legal opinion from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the issue. “If he did, it is interesting that information concerning the use and purpose of the A-2 visa is not reflected in the decision that was taken,” Dorset added. According to Dorset: “The term ‘locally recruited’ should not be applied to the five persons at the Consulate General who were given A2 visas, three of which have not been renewed. “The United States Embassy in Port-of-Spain issued those visas, in the first instance, at the request of the ministry, on the advice of the Consulate General which desired to hire those individuals who, I emphasise, were not out of status in the United States.“ She explained: “Those individuals travelled to or were already in Port-of-Spain and were interviewed by the US Embassy, which granted the visas, one of them being an A3 visa, subsequently adjusted to A-2.  The visas permitted them to work nowhere in the US but at the Consulate General.” Dorset wanted to know: “Why are not all of our missions overseas operating with the same type of plan, for the non-diplomatic category of staff. “The Ministry of Foreign affairs is far too important in the development of Trinidad and Tobago, as our face to the outside world, for its responsibility and role to be ‘dumbed down’. “In this context self-interest, on the part of anyone, including at the top administrative levels, cannot be allowed to impede national goals,” the former head of the foreign service insisted.


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