Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira has stated that the Guyana Government is looking at further strengthening mechanisms to ensure that all the migrants from Venezuela entering the country are documented.
At her ministry’s closing press conference for 2023 on Wednesday, Teixeira addressed issues raised by the APNU and AFC Oppositions about the influx of migrants from the neighbouring Spanish-speaking nation. In fact, she rubbished claims that Government is giving citizenship to scores of Venezuelan migrants to gain political strength at the upcoming 2025 General and Regional Elections.
“The issue that people were getting citizenship for election purposes, that was a leap of faith by the person who was saying all of that. They moved from registering people to citizenship and then to the election list for 2025 – that’s quite a leap of faith or mental gymnastics. I won’t call it intellectual,” the minister stated.
According to Teixeira, there has not been a sudden surge in Venezuelan migrants coming here in recent months other hand the regular movement of these persons. She went onto to respond to the Opposition claims by explicitly outlining the process of gaining citizenship in Guyana.
“You cannot become a citizen of Guyana unless you have five consecutive years of living in Guyana. Secondly, if you marry a Guyanese… But we have to make sure that these are not marriages of convenience or marriages where there is money passing, and things like that…”
On this note, the minister said that there maybe a need to look at the archaic procedures in place for citizenship via marriage. Presently, persons can apply for citizenship status as early as one day after getting legally married to a Guyanese.
But Teixeira said requirements for married couples to spend one year living together before making such an application will have to be considered. However, in the absence of such criteria, persons applying for citizenship status in Guyana are still subjected to other procedures such as background checks and visits to their communities and so on, which sometimes take about one year to process.
“So, there is not rapid door for citizenship,” the Governance Minister contended.She went onto note that while Venezuelans are given voting rights after becoming naturalized citizens, Guyana’s laws also give the same privilege to citizens from Commonwealth countries who are living here for one year.
“Any Commonwealth citizen who is legally in Guyana for one year can vote in our elections. No one seems to find that as a problem and it isn’t a problem. But you can’t be discriminatory with who you feel comfortable with voting and who we don’t feel comfortable with voting,” the minister argued.
Teixeira went onto point out that Government has taken an “empathetic” approach towards those fleeing Venezuela as she reminded that there are many Guyanese-born citizens returning or those with Guyanese parentage coming here.
There are approximately 30,000 migrants from Venezuela in Guyana – a quarter of whom are said to be Guyanese or from Guyanese linage.
Registering Venezuelan migrantsThe minister noted that government priority’s is more focused on ensuring those who come are registered. There are systems in place to have ensure that all those entering Guyana from Venezuela, both legally and illegally, to be documented by the local Immigration Office.
“We’ve been less concerned about deporting people and more concerned about know who is here and what they’re doing here, etc. And that’s how we get the data [of how much migrants are coming in from Venezuela] because in many cases in the interior, people cross over in the river or between the trees and they’re now in Guyana… So, we have to find mechanisms of making sure that they report an immigrant point or police station to get their certificate or registration form,” the minister stated.
Holders of these documents are required to have them renewed every three months.According to Teixeira, Government is not worried about the steady influx of migrants from the neighbouring country, noting that Guyanese had done the same decades ago – moving to Venezuela and other nations in search of betterment.
Currently, those migrants coming from Venezuela benefit from free healthcare and other social services including education, whereby Government is putting systems in place for the Spanish-speaking children to be integrated into local schools.
In addition, Government has also undertaken efforts to improve the living conditions of those who are squatting in various areas across the country. Moreover, many of them are allowed to operate small/road side businesses to earn a living.
According to Minister Teixeira, some of the migrants coming here also bring technical expertise and have managed to gain reputable employment.