Marlene concern over influx of Venezuelans

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The Member of Parliament for Port-of-Spain South, Marlene McDonald, has expressed concern about the number of Venezuelans in the country but the acting Chief Immigration Officer says from the official number less Venezuelans came into the country through official ports of entry last year when compared to 2016 but admitted that she can only “surmise,” that people are “smuggled” into the country.

McDonald told the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Foreign Affairs that her constituency included Woodbrook and St James and she had noticed over the last year “an influx of Venezuelans in every nook and cranny, restaurants and other places. I have also been reliably informed they are very prominent in the Chaguanas area.”

But acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews told the JSC that while “we are seeing large numbers, the official statistics show there is a decrease in the numbers arriving at the official ports of entry.

Gandhi-Andrews said the official figures show that 39,209 Venezuelans entered this country in 2016 legally of those 725 or 1% of those seeking entry were rejected because they did not meet the criteria for entry.

In 2017 she said, 27,611 Venezuelan nationals came in to the country legally. Asked how many of them returned to Venezuela Ghandi-Andrews said of the 39,200 who came in 2016, 38,339 left in that year. If someone comes in December she said they are allowed to stay to February the following year. She gave no statistics for how many left in 2017.

But she said in the five year period “the average number of persons who over stayed in the country represents 3%, of the numbers who arrived legally. That is what the figures over a five year period would have shown us, just about 3%.”

Gandhi-Andrews said “granted there are persons who may be smuggled into T&T there is no way for the Immigration Division to know how many persons have been smuggled into the country given the geographic location.

“So I can only surmise that there may be people coming in illegally , being smuggled into the country and once we are alerted or once we pick up any of those individuals then due process will take place,” she said.

Acknowledging that there are “pockets of Venezuelans throughout the country including Tobago,” she cautioned, however, that “not because there is a presence of persons all over,” means that they are “breaking the law.”

Gandhi-Andrews said the immigration department does not have the resources to “go out and determine all of these individuals have over stayed their time in the country and try to find them, “No country has the resource to do so,” she said.

McDonald told Gandhi-Andrews that she was concerned “because of what I see on the ground outside there.

They in everything, at all the eating places, the nursing homes, small establishments, wherever, families lives, they are entering and I think some mechanism should be put in place to monitor.”