Free movement for all people – CARICOM Heads decide at historic meeting
“We believe that this is a fundamental part of the integration architecture, and at 50, we could not leave Trinidad and Tobago and not speak about the core of the regional integration movement, that is, people’s ability to move freely within the Caribbean Community. I think we would have served and we have served the Community well at this meeting by arriving at that decision and we hope to see that it is implemented by the 30th of March 2024.” – Chair of CARICOM, the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica
CARICOM Heads of Government have decided on free movement for all CARICOM nationals by March next year, going beyond the current CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime of free movement of agreed categories of skilled nationals.
The decision came at the historic 45th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government which coincided with the golden jubilee anniversary of CARICOM.
CARICOM Chair, the Hon Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica, made the announcement on Wednesday evening at a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting.
“We have taken the decision to seek to have the free movement of all categories of people to live and work. Obviously, there are some legal issues that we have to examine, and we have given the legal people some months to examine those legal issues and to ensure that they could come to us by the 30th of March to take a definitive position on this. We understand that there are some challenges for some, but we are committed to this,” Prime Minister Skerrit said.
“We believe that this is a fundamental part of the integration architecture, and at 50, we could not leave Trinidad and Tobago and not speak about the core of the regional integration movement, that is, people’s ability to move freely within the Caribbean Community. I think we would have served and we have served the Community well at this meeting by arriving at that decision and we hope to see that it is implemented by the 30th of March 2024.
“This is great news. I think that of all the issues that we have discussed and the number of decisions that we have taken this is the decision that we have taken at this Conference, and I believe the founding fathers are smiling from heaven that the present generation of leaders were bold enough to be able to arrive at the decision going forward,” the CARICOM Chair said.
He said that in addition to the free movement, there are some contingent rights that have to be accorded such as access to primary and emergency health care, and education. Hassle-free travel is another area of focus of the Heads of Government.
Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. Mia Mottley, who holds responsibility for the CSME in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, pointed out that “out of an abundance of caution and to be sure-footed, there are some aspects of the Treaty that will require amendment, and therefore, we are giving ourselves between now and the 30th of March 2024, to make the amendments, because we recognise as well that there may have to be an approach that does not make countries liable to any form of suit with respect to some of the rights. There has to be a minimum set of rights guaranteed for the movement of citizens that will be discussed and agreed upon, that will be captured in the amendments to the Treaty,” and will have to be financed.
She added that Heads are looking to the CARICOM Development Fund to ensure that each country could bring its minimum level of service up to an acceptable period and level.
“So what we are doing is to ensure that the desire of Heads is met by the reality of implementation… That is why Prime Minster Skerrit said the Heads who founded this entity would be smiling on us because in a very real sense, this is what ordinary people want… in a Region that is under-populated, and in a Region that is facing the most difficult crises from climate to recovery from pandemic to debt to all kinds of other problems, if ever there was a time that we need to come together as one, it is now, and Prime Minister Skerrit was correct in saying that this Conference reflected the mood of can do and optimism but realist execution will ground us and that is why we have fashioned it in the way that we have,” Prime Minister Mottley added.
The decision, she said, now gives expression to what “every Caribbean citizen has wanted since we’ve had control of our destiny.”
Prime Minister Mottley also indicated that Heads of Government have agreed to Haiti’s request for a derogation of the free movement agreement given the circumstances of that Member State.