Origin and History

Immigration has played a significant role in the history of Antigua and Barbuda, and the twin island state continues to have the most open immigration policy within the Caribbean Region. Although immigration and emigration policies were codified and formalized in the region during the early 1900’s, migration of people throughout the region dates back thousands of years.

In 1945, the Immigration and Passport Act Cap 208 was introduced to control the movement of persons. The establishment of the Department commenced as a section within the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, which was a common trend across the Commonwealth Caribbean. Today, the Police Force still controls immigration in some countries, including Dominica, Guyana and St. Lucia. The intent and purpose of the Immigration Department of Antigua and Barbuda was initial to manage the flow of persons entering and departing the state of Antigua and Barbuda. The Department’s Mandate has now increased to a wider scope of Border Management to include not only detection and deterrence at Ports of entry but also land surveillance, prosecution and enforcement.

For the earlier part of its history, the Immigration Department dealt mainly with controlling and monitoring passengers at seaports since most persons were arriving by sea. By 1981, the number of arriving passengers at the airport surpassed that of seaports for the first time as a result of the opening of the new international airport, V.C.B. International Airport. This steadily changed immigration control at the airport, which led to the modern emphasis on control and border security that was given to controlling and monitoring passengers, mainly to filter out the unwanted travellers.

The Development of the Immigration Department

The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda previously controlled the functions and management of the Immigration Department, and this functional area of the Royal Police Force was detached in November 1998. An amendment to the Immigration and Passport Act, CAP 208 in 1999 officially severed the Immigration Function from the Police. The amendment created a civilian Immigration Department, which had an initial focus on the transition from policing to a more Tourism friendly product. Another reason for the change was that the political directorate believed that border policing and public policing ought to be separate and apart; border security is about protecting and monitoring rather than coercion and policing.

The separation created the formation of the Immigration Department as one of the principal security units under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in 2009, the Department was placed under the Ministry of National Security and Labour. The Ministry of Legal Affairs, Public Safety, Immigration and Labour was formed after the general elections of 2014, and the Immigration Department became one of the security departments under this ministry. Presently, the Immigration Department is under the original Ministry, which is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration.

The scope of change with the Immigration Department from the Police to civilians was proceeded by the introduction of technologies that opened up opportunities to create a new “flexible” border control that better focused its resources on high-risk passengers. In 1998, the Immigration Department managed passenger’s arrivals and departures, extension of permits, immigration offenders and the detection of potential deportees; however, the prosecution and the detention of these illegal immigrant persons continued to be seen as a matter for the police. The enforcement arm of the department developed slowly, and in 2009 underwent a major transformation in activities. The Department is now prosecuting offenders and detaining them in its facilities and only exceptional circumstances, in the care of the Police.

There are three parts of the Antigua and Barbuda Immigration System: These are one, the Resident Unit; two, inspections and border; and, finally, enforcement of immigration laws of the of the country. The passport and visa sections of the Immigration and Passport Act (Cap 208) was always under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was never the duty of the Police Force. This remains so today, although there are discussions to integrate these functions under the mandate of the Immigration Department.

The focus of the Immigration Department, today is the building of an integrated border management system, which is universally accepted. To achieve this mission,  the merging of two objectives of effective and efficient border management is required. This action represents the delicate attempt to merge the border security concerns with trade facilitation and hassle-free travel. The current treaty obligations that are being implemented and other innovative approaches to deal with these issues are already proving to be a challenge to well-established countries. In this regard, Antigua and Barbuda will continue to develop solutions that would firmly go into the direction of a systematic and reasonable approach to the new border management initiatives.