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Drenched in sweat, scores of people, including a young lady who had plans to attend her grandmother’s funeral in New York, gathered yesterday morning outside the passport office on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, hoping to get their passports. But many were disappointed because they were told their passports were not ready. People started to gather outside the office from 3 am and were allowed inside around 7 am. Once the office was filled, the remaining people were asked to wait outside and were allowed inside in groups of ten.
Natisha Grant, who applied for her passport two weeks ago, was told to come back next month but she said her grandmother’s funeral in New York was in four days time. She was told to wait while the officers tried to process her passport. Another individual, who planned to travel next week Saturday for his son’s graduation in the UK, has been trying to get his passport since April.
He said: “I came to Port-of-Spain on Monday and it was closed and I saw two immigration officers outside so I asked them what they can do, and they said ‘Well sir, we cannot process your passports on the streets and we can’t work under those conditions.’
“Someone suggested that I go to Chaguanas. I went to Chaguanas and when I got up to the counter they said, ‘Sir, you have to go to Port-of-Spain if you applied there.’ “I came here today and they said they will see what happens. It’s so frustrating. I don’t want to see anybody in an immigration uniform and the Government should be able to override this.” Derek O’Brien said he had to travel abroad for work-related issues but was grounded in T&T. “Since April 11, I sent in my application and it’s now July and I can’t get my passport yet. Every time I come is come back, come back. It’s beyond ridiculous. “They also have my birth certificate since April. They are holding the entire country at ransom and it’s totally unfair to us,” he said.
Allison Crosby, who applied for her passport on May 7, said she needed her passport, not for travel, but as a form of identification to conduct transactions. She added: “This could never be right. I reached since 8.30 am and I ain’t get nothing. They said to come back in three weeks. “I have things to do for my children and I need two forms of identification. I want to go to the Unit Trust and open a little account for them but I can’t do it. This is madness.” Another person said: “This is my eighth visit here. I have to travel on July 11, and they said it’s not important and it’s not an emergency and to come back. Since February 27 and we are on July 3...four months to renew a passport. This is absurd.” Commenting on the action by the Public Service Administration (PSA), one person said: “They have to do what they have to do but the Chief Immigration Officer has a job to do and the Minister of National Security also has a job to do.”
When the T&T Guardian visited the Port-of-Spain immigration office at 2 pm yesterday, the office was closed. One of the employees came out of the building and said the new office hours would be between 7 am and 11 am until a new building was provided. The industrial action, which has been ongoing for weeks, was part of a series of protests against poor health and safety working conditions in the public service, including the Immigration Division. Attempts to reach PSA president Watson Duke yesterday were unsuccessful.