A total of 9,080 citizens of Venezuela, who entered T&T legally, have overstayed their time in this country between 2016 to now, acting prime Minister Colm Imbert has said.
Addressing the post-Cabinet press conferenceon Wednesday, Imbert said he received those official statistics from Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews during a meeting on Tuesday.
Imbert said he sought the data to dispel the inaccurate figures being bandied about with regard to the number of Venezuelan citizens here.
The United Nations has estimated that there were between 40,000 to 60,000 Venezuelans in T&T after they fled their homeland which is facing an economic and political crisis.
For the period 2016 to now, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received 12,257 applications from Venezuelan citizens seeking asylum here, Imbert said.
Some of the Venezuelan overstays are also asylum seekers, he said.
But even with these two sets of data, Imbert said, T&T will only get a true reflection as to the number of Venezuelan citizens here when the registration process is concluded in two weeks time.
As such Imbert and acting National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds yesterday urged all Venezuelan citizens here to take advantage of the registration process scheduled to start tomorrow.
Registration takes place from 7 am to 5 pm until June 14. There will be no registration on June 5, the day Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated.
“There is no need for fear, this can only bring benefits. So we encourage every one of them to come out. There is no need to fear. This is Trinidad and Tobago, we are giving you an opportunity to be here lawfully, we are giving you an opportunity to work, we are giving you an opportunity to maintain your human dignity and there is nothing to fear,” Hinds said.
“This is most certainly not a trick, or a trap, or anything sinister at all. It the opposite,” Imbert said.
Hinds urged the Venezuelan nationals to also walk with their children to also be registered.
At the end of the process, successful applicants will receive an identification card.
The Employment Authorisation Card circulated on social media, however, is not the card that Venezuelan citizens will receive, Hinds said.
The card on social media is an earlier mock-up version, and the final version is yet to be approved by the Minister of National Security, he said.
The registration cards will also carry security features and anyone caught unlawfully replicating it will face criminal charges.
Not all Venezuelan nationals who register over the next two weeks are guaranteed a card as Hinds said it was up to the discretion of the Immigration Department when they conduct their interviews.
Successful applicants will not be given their cards immediately as there is a verification process which needs to be undertaken, Hinds said.
Instead, applicants will be given receipts that can be used until the cards are presented to them.
“You don’t have to be hiding from the authorities anymore. This moves you from illegality to legality,” Hinds said.
Imbert also challenged Central Bank Governor Dr Alvin Hilaire for stating that the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis can cost this country an estimated $620 million annually.
Hilaire said the bank’s calculation was based on the 40,000 estimated Venezuelans in T&T.
“I have absolutely no idea how the Central Bank arrived at that number. I don’t know how the figure was calculated, I don’t know the basis for the figure and I find the figure surprising and we at the Ministry of Finance we do not agree,” Imbert said.
Imbert said because Venezuelans have been coming to this country for years the economic impact would already have been felt.
“If there was an economic impact then it already would have been manifested within the national budget and within the economy of Trinidad and Tobago,” Imbert said.
“If one is logical about all of this the numbers that would affect the budget for 2020 are very small, the persons who already have been here and could possibly be affecting the budget, and we don’t agree with that, are the vast majority of Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago so it is not rational to do a calculation like that, assuming that 40,000 Venezuelans will come here tomorrow, it is not rational,” he said.
Imbert said the T&T Government has not accepted any international aid to deal with the Venezuelan migrants as those come with specific requirements.
Reporter: Mark Bassant