IN its continued quest to determine free movement amongst sub-regional nationals – the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States is seeking to strengthen that enterprise with mechanisms that can profit residents akin to hassle-free travel, indefinite stay, no work permit, and mutual recognition of drivers’ licenses.
Consequently, the OECS Commission undertook an initial series of country missions to the respective Protocol Member States.
Between November 5 to December 7, 2023, stakeholder consultations were held in Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The engagements were on account of be finalised in January 2024, following discussions with senior officials from Montserrat.
The mission goals to extend awareness amongst the general public on the advantages of the Economic Union and the continuing European Union-funded Regional Integration Through Growth Harmonisation and Technology (RIGHT) programme. It’s also goals at promoting national motion that can fully establish the free movement of individuals regime. The regime is a core component of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union (ECEU) established on June 18th, 2010 under the Revised Treaty of Basseterre (RTB).
In May 2011, the 53rd Meeting of the OECS Authority took the choice to grant OECS residents and their qualifying relations throughout the ECEU several advantages related to free movement of individuals, namely:
– Indefinite Stay: OECS residents can live in any Protocol Member State indefinitely receiving an indefinite stay stamp upon arrival.
– Hassle-free Travel: OECS residents can travel throughout the ECEU with a sound government-issued picture ID akin to a driver’s license, national identification card, and voter cards.
– Mutual Recognition of Driver’s License – OECS residents may also drive inside any Protocol Member State using a sound driver’s license issued by their home country.
– No Work Permit: OECS residents and their third-country spouses can work in any Protocol Member State without obtaining a piece permit.
By so doing, the OECS Authority took a fundamental step forward toward true regional integration within the OECS. These advantages and more are currently detailed within the OECS Policy on Rights Contingent on the Right to Freedom of Movement Inside the Economic Union, which is the central component of the free movement of individuals regime but not yet fully implemented by Member States.
Through these country missions, the OECS Commission is searching for to speed up the free movement of individuals and the ECEU generally. Initiatives geared toward strengthening the regime include labour migration, social security advantages portability, access to education and healthcare, social development, intra-regional transportation, intra-regional trade, national border security, access to digital services and consumer protection which were all topics of debate with a large cross-section of national stakeholders.
The OECS Regional Integration and Legal Units met with senior officials from national security, immigration, human and social development, national insurance, Attorneys’ General chambers, foreign and diaspora affairs, consumer affairs departments, the labour commissioner’s offices, and the media. Stakeholders mainly discussed the implementation of those initiatives and the approaches that can help expand existing advantages related to the free movement of individuals.
The national consultations also focused on efforts to help Member States to totally implement the OECS Policy on Rights Contingent on the Right to Freedom of Movement throughout the Economic Union.
Director General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules stated: “These stakeholder engagements will help guide the national actions that may be moved within the immediate and medium term to deliver on these contingent rights advantages.
“This includes efforts to advance the Contingent Rights Model Bill and the event of administrative instruments that will help make the free movement of individuals regime a more accessible reality for ECEU residents.”
These recommendations will form a part of a report which shall be reviewed by the OECS Authority in 2024 for further motion.
Initiatives discussed on the stakeholder engagements included the next:
– OECS Contingent Rights Policy and Model Bill
– Border management enhancement initiative – an effort to enhance national security and data collection at ports across OECS Member States, in addition to allow for higher collaboration amongst port management agencies.
– Review of the free movement of individuals regime and labour market.
– Implementation of a regime for the portability of short-term social security advantages including sickness, maternity, and funeral advantages.
– Consumer protection enforcement – through laws, capability constructing, and ICT solutions to enhance the standard of service of the patron affairs department.
– OECS ID – a digital identification system that utilizes biometrics and collates personal information from all the different sorts of government-issued IDs to create an individualised ID number for every citizen.
– Diaspora Engagement
-Media sensitization and media as a tool for strengthening the OECS freedom of movement regime.
Several regional integration initiatives being advanced by the OECS Commission are currently being financed by the European Union’s eleventh European Development Fund through the Regional Integration Through Growth Harmonisation and Technology (RIGHT) Programme.
Co-funders and international agency support include The World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).