[OP-ED] CARICOM’s 50th Anniversary gift to its citizens: freedom of movement, a step towards closer integration

Patrice Quesada

It is truly an historical decision. On July 4, 2023, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the institution, the Heads of State of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), under the Chairmanship of Dominica’s Honourable Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, announced a big step towards regional integration. In the words of Barbados’ Honourable Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, who holds responsibility for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, they have responded to what “every Caribbean citizen has wanted since we’ve had control of our destiny.” This major step forward is the decision to extend freedom of movement to all CARICOM nationals. Enabling citizens to freely move in the CSME has been a long-standing wish – one that has often been deemed too ambitious or unrealistic. But as the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

By publicly taking the decision to sign a renewed agreement by March 30, 2024, the leaders of CARICOM have paved the way to become one of the most integrated regions in the world by allowing citizens to seek work or family reunification opportunities in other CARICOM countries.

Currently, under the CSME, just a few skills are recognized, and an often-complex process is required to receive and verify a skills certificate. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), at the request of CARICOM, is currently undertaking a study of the collection, management and analysis of free movement data within the CSME. Activities are underway to engage CSME focal points to address the challenges in existing processes and find opportunities to improve the system to ensure it caters to the new free movement regime.

The decision comes at an interesting juncture in the recent rich history of the Caribbean. From IOM’s assessment of the migratory context, one important economic game changer – with potentially large social implications – has emerged with the emerging oil and gas industry in Guyana. As per our studies of labour needs, to accompany this large-scale transformation, it appears that labour migration will have to play an essential role to fuel the market with skilled and unskilled workers in all the sectors that will be directly and indirectly affected. These would include, for instance,
extraction, construction, housing, health and education. How this massive labour need can be strategically managed to benefit the region as a whole is a defining question of the decade.

Free movement can play a significant role in facilitating this process along with strategic education initiatives and fair and transparent labour agreements.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and government lawyers and multiple stakeholders will need all the time they have ahead of the March deadline to iron out possible issues of contention. Consideration of how the Caribbean can capitalize on the opportunities ahead would be incomplete if we did not take into account the need for accurate, comparable and up-to-date data to support a robust evidence-based policy on free movement. As it is repeatedly acknowledged, the need for data in the Caribbean is one of the major accelerators identified to support the sustainable development of the Caribbean in all sectors – migration included. In this context, IOM is very pleased to be supporting CARICOM and its institutions in the process of developing a regional migration policy.

Freedom of movement will be a defining feature of key policies to leverage migration’s potential to accelerate sustainable development by defining legal pathways, lowering the cost of remittances, better protecting people on the move, and mitigating the impact of climate change on displacement – all while using migration as a tool to support the blue and green transformation of Caribbean economies.

What the CARICOM Heads of Government clearly saw when embarking on this regional policy process in 2019 is how intertwined the different dimensions of migration are and how a comprehensive approach, as promoted by the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM) is required. Our wish is that freedom of movement for CARICOM citizens can quickly become an enabler of sustainable development.

From witnessing the process of the OECS on their model contingent rights bill, this is certainly one area that will require the two institutions to share lessons learned in terms of legislative development and implementation. To what extent spouses and immediate dependents of CARICOM nationals, who are not themselves from CARICOM, can benefit from the contingent rights, is a key question for lawmakers to address. And how can this information be communicated and implemented in a consistent way across the CSME space? These policy decisions will affect individual and family choices on whether or not to migrate within the region.

There are other sensitive issues that have hindered CARICOM from fully moving in the direction of freedom of movement. One such issue has been in relation to Haiti as a member of CARICOM. Given the current circumstances in the country, CARICOM Heads of Government have agreed to Haiti’s request for a derogation of the free movement agreement. While this is understandable in the present time, it is important to also take a keen look at how well-managed, safe and orderly migration between Haiti and the rest of CARICOM could provide, and is already to some extent providing, much-needed support to Haiti as the country grapples with domestic instability. From our
own extensive experience at IOM we believe that labour migration agreements could also benefit countries in the Caribbean which are already experiencing labour shortages in some key sectors, like the agricultural, healthcare and construction sectors.

In this context, security-related matters should also not be underestimated. While the CARICOM countries, with the notable exception of Haiti, are not experiencing wide unrest, there have been growing concerns around criminal activities and the role of transnational criminal networks involved in the smuggling of weapons, and drugs but also in the smuggling of migrants and trafficking of persons. It is important to ensure that the tools and knowledge to detect ill-intended individuals, and to recognize and give protection to victims of trafficking, are available, whether or not these may be CARICOM citizens. IOM is committed to supporting these efforts to strengthen border management and protect the individuals who may fall victim to criminal networks.

While recognizing the historical significance of this decision, let us be sure to manage expectations, and see it for what it is: the beginning of a process. The Prime Minister of The Bahamas has reminded citizens that The Bahamas is not a part of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and therefore the free movement of people does not apply to The Bahamas. In addition, as with previous experiences with CSME implementation, the Member States understand that the ratification, integration in national legislation and the implementation in each country, at each border point and in each public service, are where the decision will be truly translated into action and have a positive impact on their citizens.

Adequate resources will need to be mobilized, an effort that IOM will eagerly support by raising the awareness of the promise of free movement within CARICOM and the tools and expertise required to make it work. The decision to move toward full freedom of movement is a bold step taken by CARICOM Heads of Government, on the road to full regional integration. With strong collaboration, and evidence-based strategies rooted in the historical and cultural context of the Caribbean, well-managed intra-regional migration has the potential to be a crucial factor in accelerating all the Sustainable Development Goals in the CARICOM region.

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  1. Peter RT
    August 16, 2023

    I think this caricom free movement initiative will have more wins than losses in the long run. My question: how would the different govts respond to the current “bullying” by the US to accept the disgusting behaviour by the “LGBQTRSTX2 as normal. If my laws prohibit this gay agenda and another caricom partner is ok with it. What happens.

  2. Lin clown
    August 3, 2023

    If you want to know what is happening,get off your lazy ignorant butt and go to Dominica,all you do is gussip.Young people run things in this country.Young nurses,young police,young prison officers,young teachers.Dominica has more than 39,000 registered vehicles of a population of 72,000,and 90% of women above 20 have a license.Most Dominicans,unlike you own their house.Dominicans grow more food than they can consume.If you are not in jail take a walk to the food market any day.Every Dominican if he/she does not receive retirement benefit is entitled to $300 monthly.So for your information nobody above 65 in Dominica is broke.And every school child above the age of 8 has a mobile phone.Almost every house in Dominica,has water,electricity and internet.Go to Dowasco,go to Domlec and go to Digicel and Flow.There are a few street people,they chose to be so,but there no homelessness and nobody is starving.If it were so the PEOPLE would vote DLP out of office.The majority of UWP are lazy.

    • Mabouya
      August 11, 2023

      Yup Bozo, is that progressing or accepting your place as a 3rd class cheap-labor citizen of this new world order?

  3. CARICOM in line
    August 3, 2023

    Don’t worry. The “One World Order” is taking shape and nothing can stop it. This OWO falls in line with the prediction of “perilous times will come” in terms of the chaos and suffering that’s ahead. 95% of young people do not read the Bible. None of you bloggers would change Dominica in a real meaningful and significant way if you were the Prime Minister. We are not concerned about God; but we think we have the solution to solve all the problems in government. Some of us cannot if put discipline in our own homes. Keep on blogging you pseudo intellectuals. As for that person who goes by the name IBO France and another one who is really a “lil Clown.” These two seems to have no other thing to do but to butt in everything. Give Jesus a chance in your life; Give Him some of the time you put on DNO instead of wasting all your precious time going no where.

  4. If we knew better
    August 3, 2023

    MEANWHILE!! because Dominica has YET to ratify the Treaty, Non Dominicans, regardless of if they are CARICOM nationals STILL need a work permit to come here to work.

  5. Zandoli
    August 3, 2023

    I started to read the article and halfway through, I gave up. It was too tiresome. When a subjects gets as many words and government jargon attached to it, that is a sure sign it is going nowhere.
    I have never seen an organization that meets so often, talks so much and accomplishes so little.
    I really don’t know how many more studies we need after 50 years to throw open the borders of the region and allow our citizens to move and live freely within the region. These same governments allow all kinds of criminal foreigners to own our passports, yet Caribbean born citizens are not able to do the same within the region.
    Just open the borders and get on with it. Too much talk already.
    These leaders think if they make free movement possible, people from other islands will flood their shores. When Prime Minister Rawley of Trinidad offered to help after Hurricane Maria, many Trinis thought they would be overrun by Dominicans. That did not happen.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0
  6. Ibo France
    August 2, 2023

    Even though I may be in the minority, I am adamantly against the free movement of CARICOM nationals to live and work in most
    other CARICOM member countries. The nationals of the larger countries like Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados flock to the smaller territories for employment purposes.

    It’s like a one way street. Because the economies in these countries are in dire straits, citizens of the smaller member states do not even attempt to gain employment in these larger territories.

    Just the same situation with trade. We in the smaller islands manufacture little and export hardly anything to the larger member states. They, though, see the smaller islands as large supermarkets for their poor quality goods.

    The Bahamas is not part of this CSME. Th CARICOM is just like a dysfunctional family. How many members have spoken out in support of the stance Jamaica has taken to rebuff the bullying of the US?

    • MEME
      August 3, 2023

      @Ibo France
      Re your last sentence, i am sure many Dominicans are not even cognizant of that development.
      The United States is/was seeking Jamaica’s approval for the married partner of a diplomat who is in a same-sex relationship to be given immunity, and all the privileges of a diplomat.
      After Jamaica refused at first, have they been “strong armed” into submission?….I will do little research for the latest…Good point though, i did not hear any other CARICOM government giving support to Jamaica!!

  7. MEME
    August 2, 2023

    Free movement to, live and work in other CARICOM countries sound good, but until there is a radical change in the mindset of the people in this economic space, it will be something easier said than done. Insularity still pervades the psyche of CARICOM citizens in sports, culture, politics, etc, and i’m sure it will be equally strong in the job market, if and when there is a large influx of non nationals.
    With the bad governance going on in DOMINICA by the Skerrit Labour Party (SLP), i anticipate another drastic fall or decline in population, when the policy is fully operational, as people of working age (in Dominica), are prepared to escape poverty, corruption, thievery, hopelessness, and hardship by every means possible.

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