'Heaven on Earth'

New Jamaican citizens overjoyed

Senior staff reporter

Friday, December 15, 2017

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Hugs, broad smiles, and a sense of pride marked the celebratory atmosphere among 47 people who were yesterday granted Jamaican citizenship during a ceremony at Police Officers' Club on Hope Road in St Andrew.

Nigerian entrepreneur Moruf Uveen was simply overjoyed.

“I have been here from 2001,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “I fell in love with the country over the years. It's a very beautiful island. It's like a heaven on Earth — other than the crime that we are seeing. Sometimes I just picture this island without the crime. Lovely!”

Another native of the African continent, Shola Banidela, said she was filled with pride and a great sense of responsibility as a new citizen of Jamaica. A nurse by profession, she set foot on Jamaican soil in 2011 and wants to continue to expand her roots here.

“I realise it's a lot like home… when I started cooking Jamaican foods, I take it to my place of work and my colleagues said, 'Wow, so you've become Jamaican.' Just coming here, it makes me feel like I have been given a responsibility. I'm now a Jamaican and I need to put in my best,” she told the Observer.

Miguel de La Cruz Navarro, a Cuban by birth, was equally euphoric.

“I have always loved Jamaica,” he said, beaming from ear to ear. “In Cuba we used to hear a lot of Jamaican music… I always said I want to go and visit Jamaica, and the dream came through. I'm married to a Jamaican citizen. I came to Jamaica and then after working here I said okay, 'I want to come to Jamaica. I want to help to build this country.' I'm building my life here in Jamaica.”

Yesterday's ceremony was the first public event of its kind held by the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) in the country.

The group included people from Africa, Asia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries.

Chief executive officer of PICA, Andrew Wynter, said that this was the largest group of individuals to be granted citizenship on one occasion, and that since the inception of the agency 10 years ago, more than 30,000 people have become Jamaican citizens.

Describing the occasion as a watershed moment, Wynter said PICA intends to reach out to relatives of Jamaicans in the diaspora who are also eligible to become citizens of the island.

National Security Minister Robert Montague urged the new citizens to apply for crucial national evidence of their identity such as Taxpayer Registration Number, voter identification, and Jamaican passports. He also urged them to join in the fight against crime by downloading the police Stay Alert app which, he said, now has 137,000 downloads.

Montague also announced that the Government will be embarking on an amnesty in early 2018 aimed at regularising the status of 15,000 to 20,000 foreigners living illegally in Jamaica.

This decision, he said, follows a recent submission he made to Cabinet on the matter.

“We have many persons who came here illegally. They have lived here, married, and have children and grandchildren, and have never sorted out their status. We want to give them an opportunity to (become legal) Jamaican citizens,” Montague said.

He noted that there are many foreigners who, although living illegally in Jamaica for some time, have nonetheless contributed significantly to Jamaica's development.

“...We want to give them that opportunity to become permanent residents and use this as a step towards citizenship,” he said.

Montague pointed out that other countries have extended this gesture to Jamaicans and, in this regard, “it is the least we can do for those who have helped to build this economy”.

The ceremony was also used by PICA to launch its drop-box service, which is being implemented in partnership with international couriers DHL. The initiative will allow customers to submit applications at PICA's head office in Kingston without joining lines, with the option of having DHL deliver their passports.

The service is available only to adults renewing their passports, minors, and first-time applicants who have had their forms checked by PICA officers at the agency's outposts in other parishes. The drop-box facility will provide envelopes in which the applicants will deposit their application forms and all original required documents. A receipt will be issued as proof of deposit of the application and the attendant documents. The turnaround time for this facility is seven days. People whose passports are lost, damaged, or unavailable cannot use the service.




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