Locally recruited staff at the New York Consulate seem to have lost a battle to retain their jobs.
All jobs of those who worked at the Consulate and the Washington, DC mission in the United States by virtue of A-2 visas obtained through the Consulate are now in jeopardy.
Five workers at the mission in Washington who work on A-2 visas as well as people at the Consulate who are working on A-2 visas may be affected.
In a reversal of long-standing policy, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan stated that Trinidad and Tobago foreign missions should only hire people who were already lawfully resident and entitled to work in the host nation at the time of their employment.
In short, the employee must come to the job with “status”.
“If...the employee is not legally resident and entitled to work in the USA, the employment of such a person using the A-2 Visa is improper and unethical,” the Attorney General stated in a December 19 letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran.
In the letter Ramlogan stated further: “It is a misuse and abuse of the diplomatic protocol and the reciprocal comity that exist between nations for Trinidad and Tobago to circumvent the host nation’s laws by employing illegal immigrants and procuring an A-2 Visa. This policy should therefore cease with immediate effect.”
The Attorney General’s ruling appears to vindicate the position taken by Consul-General Nan Ramgoolam who did not recommend to the US State Department the renewal of A-2 visas for locally recruited staff at the Consulate General, representing a change in the policy which had been followed by previous administrations.
Instead, the contracts of the employees were ended once their A-2 visas had expired, citing as the reason the fact that since they no longer had proper immigrant status in the United States.
The affected staff questioned this decision.
And they contended that the change in policy was rooted in political victimisation and in a desire by the government to hire its political supporters.
The staff further contended that the public servants in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recommended that the A-2 visas be renewed in line with established practice.
Dookeran had admitted to the Sunday Express weeks ago that there had been a difference of opinion within the ministry on the issue.
He therefore referred the matter — of the locally recruited staff on A-2 visas — to the Attorney General, whose ruling he was prepared to accept.
Ramlogan in his letter to Dookeran stated that there was no need for locally recruited staff to apply for an A-2 visas (or any other kind of visa) to facilitate the employment of locally recruited staff in the host nation.
“Such persons would already be lawfully resident and entitled to work in the United States of America,” he said.
“If, on the other hand, the employee is not legally resident and entitled to work in the USA the employment of such a person using the A-2 Visa is improper and unethical. It is a backdoor method of regularising their immigration status in circumstances where they are otherwise not entitled to legally live and work in the USA.”
He added: “If such persons are hired, when the A-2 Visa expires, they revert to their previous status of an unlawful immigrant in the host nation. There can be no legitimate expectation (far less legal entitlement) on the part of such a person to mandate the mission to renew their contract to secure and regularise their unlawful immigration status.”
“Foreign missions should only hire persons who are lawfully resident and entitled to work in the host nation. Missions should therefore desist from hiring persons who are not lawfully entitled to reside and work in the host nation in accordance with the relevant immigration laws,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan attached two legal opinions on the issue, prepared by senior legal officers from his ministry, with whom he said he concurred.
Kimoy Thomas, legal officer 11, Process Review Team, in her opinion stated: “Persons who reside unlawfully and improperly in the US cannot be employed at the Consulate General and the Embassies in the US. Applications for A-2 Visas also ought not to be made for them by the Missions.
The issue surrounding these locally recruited staff members and A-2 Visas need not exist at all. This is so as these persons legally and properly reside in the US and as such do not require A-2 Visas. Here, the law allows the Missions to employ them on contract.”
Thomas said there were two categories of persons employed at the Consulate General and the Embassies in the US.
The first were home-based employees- people who live in Trinidad and Tobago and are sent to the United States to carry out official duties for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago at the Consulate General and the Embassies. The Mission must apply for A-2 visas for them.
The second group are people who legally and properly reside in the US. Hence, they do not require A-2 visas to work at the Consulate and Embassy.
The second opinion which was submitted by Lisa Ann Fraser reached the same conclusion.
“If a mission is recruiting staff in a host country and in keeping with proper diplomatic procedure, it must ensure that such staff is eligible to work in that country before employing.”
Among those whose contracts ended following the expiration of their A-2 visas are Terrence Lewis, Jennifer Cornwall and Rika Dorset. There are two other members of staff at the Consulate and five members of staff at the Washington mission who currently work there on A-2 visas.
Desmond Chase, who represents the workers and is also head of Hawks International, an association which is representing Trinbagonians in the diaspora, said he had grave doubts that US citizens or residents (the persons who would be legally entitled to work and live in the US) would apply to the Trinidad and Tobago missions.
“Assuming that they do, what benefits are they going to derive. Are they going to be pensionable? The answer is no. Is the Consulate prepared to collect and pay their taxes and their social security? Are they prepared to pay unemployment insurance? No, they (the Consulate) are not equipped for that.
The system which this Government is dismantling existed all these years,” Chase said.
He added that all the other Caribbean countries have nationals working on A-2 visas at their missions.
“Why is the A-2 visa suddenly an issue?” he asked.
One staff member reacting to the news asked: “What are we to do now? What is left for us? Is the Prime Minister comfortable with this decision or does this government not care about its nationals?”