Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I read recently that this week’s summit of the heads of government of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) will feature a packed agenda. Climate change is high on the list, according to CARICOM's secretary-general. Another item for discussion will be freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals.

This latter item, of course, has been discussed many times at previous CARICOM meetings. And, I’ve often wondered: why do we CARICOM citizens need so many different immigration forms for travel within our region? After all, we’ve been on this path to a so-called single market and economy for – how long now? I’ve lost track. Why not one CARICOM immigration form? In fact, why do we need a form at all, now that we’ve got machine-readable passports and fancy ID cards?

Well, I found out the answer a few weeks ago when I went to Guadeloupe on a business visit.

We don’t.

It was my first visit to the French Caribbean island and when I arrived, the immigration officer took my passport and the documentation explaining why I was there (since I spoke no French and he no English). He looked them over, scanned the passport, handed everything back and wished me a good day (in French). That was it. No form was required to be filled out. As I approached the customs counter with my luggage, the officer smiled and waved me though. Again, no form was required.

It was an interesting experience - I was let into France faster and easier than I am let into my own country!

Now, presumably, the French are just as concerned about immigration, customs and cross-border security and social issues as we are, so the question is: how come the French Caribbean can make a paperless immigration and customs entry procedure work, even for visitors from outside their economic region, while within CARICOM, we are still engaged in an archaic paper-intensive process?

Attempting to emulate the French Caribbean in this area would hasten our progress towards making freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals a reality. It would also have the salutary benefit of reducing the region’s carbon footprint, thereby assisting in our efforts to mitigate climate change. The carbon emissions generated by the energy used for the production of the paper, its shipment, printing and distribution to all of CARICOM’s immigration departments would be eliminated.

That’s a lot of paper, printing and shipping. The CARICOM Secretariat can do the numbers on how much this would reduce the region’s carbon footprint. In fact, I know a consultant who’s available for the assignment.