BY INGRID BROWN AND BALFORD HENRY—–
THE GOVERNMENT is moving to make the immigration process smoother at Jamaica’s two international airports through the implementation of a number of measures aimed at improving efficiency and easing travel restrictions, according to Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill.
One of the measures is the redesigning of incoming immigration forms to reduce the time spent in the airports by Jamaicans returning to the island.
“As we revamp our systems, our concerns will not stop at the matters affecting visitors to our island; but we will also seriously examine how we handle Jamaicans at our airports.
“Will they still require incoming immigration forms? This is a matter to be further considered. We are also going to look at how we can redesign the immigration forms in a way to simplify them to reduce time and effort,” he explained.
Among the other projects announced by the minister during his sectoral debate in Parliament on Tuesday, and on which he elaborated at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston on Wednesday, are plans to re-engineer the outgoing immigration process.
He explained that computers and relevant software have been acquired to help enhance the airports’ border management control systems with a view to improving the flow of traffic. These, he said, were secured by the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, while the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has committed US$852,000 over a five-year period for the introduction of the system.
“Testing of the system should start by September of this year and the new system should be in full operation by the start of the winter tourist season,” McNeill said.
Plans are also afoot, he said, to redeploy officers formerly assigned to outgoing immigration to increase the number of officers available for processing incoming visitors.
A third project will be redesigning Sangster International to allow for greater ease of passenger flow.
“We have to look at redesigning the airport and so work is taking place and those recommendations will come back soon,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tourism minister said the ministry is now working with the Ministry of National Security to remove the barriers to entry for visitors from new and emerging tourism markets.
“We have already started this process with the revision of visa requirements for persons from Latin American countries,” the minister said, adding that a one-year extension has been secured on the visa waivers for persons from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama.
“We have also requested the revision of visa requirements for countries in Eastern Europe, such as Russia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia,” he said.
“There are significant benefits to be reaped from improving the visa regimes and making travel more hassle free as we invite persons to come to Jamaica and experience our hospitality,” McNeill said.