AG’s office to rule on A2 visa policy
Two more NY consulate workers dismissed...
Ria Taitt Political Editor
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said on Saturday that his Ministry would make a ruling this week on the issue of whether the longstanding practice of recommending to the United States State Department that locally-recruited staff at the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate in New York be given A2 visas to allow them to work and live in the USA should continue.
Asked whether the Ministry had made a decision on the issue, Ramlogan said, “Not yet. But this week (it will be done).”
The staff at the T&T Consulate are anxiously awaiting the Attorney General’s decision as two more workers received dismissal letters last week.
One worker was given her dismissal letter hours before the Consulate’s annual Christmas party on Friday.
The two workers were told that because their A2 visas expired, they could not continue to be employed with the Consulate.
The A2 visas are given by the US State Department on the recommendation of the consulate.
However, Consul General Nan Ramgoolam did not recommend that the visas be renewed.
The A2 diplomatic visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows foreign-accredited officials (ie Trinidad and Tobago citizens), not in the diplomatic category, to enter into the US and engage in official activities of their government.
It is normally used for non-diplomatic T&T employees working in the US at the diplomatic offices.
However, the consulate recommended a change in policy.
The 2011-2012 report submitted by the Consul General stated: “The office of the Consulate General recommended that the practice of having extensions to the A2 visas initiated by the employee be stopped,” because it “compromises” the office of the Consulate General.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran conceded that the system of having the consulate recommend the renewal of A2 visas for members of staff had operated for decades.
He said, however, because there was now a “difference of opinion” on the issue, “out of an abundance of caution”, the matter had been referred to the Attorney General to advise on whether the practice was legally sound.
“Whatever they (the Attorney General’s office) rule, we would abide by,” Dookeran told the Express last week.
But even as this matter is under consideration, reports about the situation at the consulate continue to reach this newspaper.
Desmond Chase, chairman of the Board at Hawks International, one of the organisations representing the Trinidad and Tobago community resident in North America (an organisation with branches in Montreal and Toronto), slammed Ramgoolam in an interview last Friday.
“Governments have changed and we have never had any disruption,” he said, stressing that the New York Consulate was the only outpost which was challenging the validity of the policy of granting the A2 visas.
He said all the other missions—representing the Caribbean and other countries—in the United States have no difficulty with the issue of the A2 visas.
He said the matter was being conveniently used by Ramgoolam to dismiss employees.
“If the Consul General had a relationship with the Caribbean Consulate Corps she might not have resorted to this kind of policy. But she has no relationship with this group,” Chase said.
Chase, who is representing the dismissed workers, said he was “ashamed” that the Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow the Consul General “to fire people” while the Attorney General’s office was examining the issue.
Chase claimed that many of the groups representing Trinbagonians had issues with this Consul General.
He cited Sesame Flyers International, Boston United Club and Hawks International and Trinidad and Tobago Alliance.
“This Consul General also only focuses on building a relationship with the Trinbagonian community living in Queens,” he claimed.
He said he has written to T&T Ambassador to the US Neil Parsan on the issue and provided the Express with a copy of the letter.
In the letter, Chase stated: “I have been trying to bring your attention to the rampage...in this New York office. As you are aware, I have been in this country for almost 40 years, during which time I have been working in the interest of my country, through my organisation, Hawks International, and the Trinidad and Tobago Alliance. I have functioned with every Consul General over this period, serving the government of the day.
“We have never experienced the intrusion and disruption which this Consul General has exacted not only on the staff but also on our community as a whole... It must be noted that between the end of Dr Robertson’s tenure and her appointment, the services of the consulate were virtually uninterrupted. It would be rather revealing, Sir, if you would conduct an independent survey of the Trinidad and Tobago diaspora to determine the level of relations between the consulate and this sector... It is well to note that the Consul General has rather strange and strained relations with the rest of the Caricom Consular Corps, which has not been experiencing the turmoil...created in the Trinidad and Tobago staff,” Chase wrote.
He added in his letter that the policy at the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate was causing “serious hardship and displacement of families”.
Chase said one of the workers who received a dismissal letter was in tears.
“She has been employed at the consulate for eight years and has two children in college. Her husband’s employment in the United States is dependent on his status.”
Chase said there were also changes in the way some services were provided by the consulate which have also created stress for the Trinidad and Tobago community.
He said he had been trying since 2011 to get an electronic copy of his birth certificate and to date he has been unsuccessful. He said for the past three weeks he has been unable to reach the consulate by phone.
Chase also said the consulate had outsourced the granting of affidavits, something which was previously done by someone stationed at the Consulate, for a nominal fee of US$12.
“Now they have given the job to someone in Richmond Hill, Queens, and that person is charging US$100 for each affidavit,” Chase said.
Chase is calling for an audit of the consulate, since he said a lot of money is being wasted.
He claimed a driver had been hired at the consulate who is the relative of a senior person at the consulate.
“This, notwithstanding the fact that the consulate had a driver for the past 22 years who is still on the job. And the new driver is making thousands of dollars in overtime,” Chase said. “This is an outpost that is out of control.”
Chase is asking the Government, through Ambassador Parsan, to intervene urgently at the consulate.
Efforts to contact Ramgoolam were unsuccessful. Several calls to the consulate were not answered.
Sources told the Express that the consulate’s receptionist was off for one week.
The Express e-mailed questions to Ramgoolam through the secretary at the consulate, Charlene Ramsundar (to whom questions had been e-mailed previously and responses received), but up to press time there was no response. Ramgoolam is reportedly due in Trinidad soon, sources said.