Published On: Mon, Oct 21st, 2013

USVI moving toward visa-free travel for CARICOM nationals

VisasFORT DE FRANCE, Martinique – United States Virgin Islands (USVI) Governor John de Jongh said he would seek to encourage visitors from the English speaking Caribbean to his country and is moving to get Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals to enter the country without the necessary United States visa.

De Jongh, who was meeting with regional tourism officials on the final day of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) sponsored State of the Industry Conference (STOIC 2013), told reporters that he had made a proposal this year to the Senate and the House that as part of the Immigration Bill that “CARICOM nationals could come into the US Virgin Islands without having to go through those visa requirements.

“We spoke to the Committee in the House and the Senate and we spoke to US Department of Homeland Security to come up with a regime which they would feel comfortable with for countries within CARICOM and they agreed with it...

“We have written the bill, we have submitted legislation... so we are just looking for the right vehicle for it to pass,” he said, adding that “we recognize ...the region represents a tremendous opportunity for the traffic that goes back and forth and we would like to have an opportunity to participate without being overburden by some of the regulations”.

De Jongh said that while he had the support of both the Democrats and the Republicans on the initiative, what is required is the “right vehicle” to get the process moving, adding that with regards to a time frame “anyone who knows what US Congress does that would be great”.

The USVI will be the venue for the next STOIC conference in 2014 and de Jongh said that he hoped it would encourage more visitors to his territory that is already on a campaign to lure more visitors.

He said while the USVI was not affected by high taxes associated with ticket sales because of the US revenue system “what we are looking for more than anything is the volume that comes through, we are not looking to increase our prices, we are looking more to get the volume that is necessary whether that be with the airline activity or with the cruise ship activity”.

He told reporters that he wanted closer relations with the 15-member CARICOM grouping since “there is always a relationship with Washington that takes place and we are a US territory.

“Our relationship with the United States is extremely tight with respect to policy matters, legislation that affect locally but regional and I think we can have a strong partnership as an advocate for the region on a lot of issues that take place.

“When you start looking at duty free shopping, visa issues, you start looking at issues having to do with security and immigration, the USVI can be an advocate because in many cases our legislation, our economic existence depends on the relationship with the Executive branch and the House and the Senate.”

De Jongh stayed clear of the on controversy between Washington and Antigua and Barbuda over the Gaming industry, saying “we are now evaluating online games.

“We are going through the process of evaluating it. For many years we have been excluded because of Federal regulations that opportunity has now open,” he said.

Antigua and Barbuda has criticized the United States since 1998 of breaching its commitments to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by enacting laws that prevented foreign-based operators from offering gambling and betting services to its citizens.

In 2005, the WTO ruled that the US had violated international trade agreements by prohibiting operation of offshore Internet gambling sites.

Antigua and Barbuda claimed that it lost US$3.4 billion a year due to the US action, but the WTO awarded the island US$21 million.

But in its final ruling, the Geneva-based WTO has allowed Antigua and Barbuda to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.

But for almost a decade, St. John’s has been trying to resolve the issue with Washington.

Earlier this year US Congressman Peter King in June introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2013, which if passed, would federally legalize online gambling in the US.

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