Address by CEO, Jennifer McDonald to the Returned Residents & Friends Association Dinner December 17, 2014
Thanks for inviting me to share this Christmas dinner with you and to share my thoughts as well. I know many of you have experienced life outside of Jamaica and I am sure you’ll agree that there is no Christmas like a Jamaican Christmas – We have the warmth of our climate and the warmth of our people. We have wonderful Christmas dinners like this one with friends and families. We enjoy such delights as sorrel, rice and peas, Christmas cake and ham among other delicious fare. We go to Christmas productions and Christmas parties and we go to Christmas church services. As Jamaicans, we certainly do know how to have a good time.
In Jamaica, like in many other countries, Christmas is also a season of giving and I hope you’ll allow me to give you some useful bit of information tonight.
The Jamaican expatriate will, over the years, become accustomed to the notion of having to settle and then re-settle from one territory to another. You, who have returned home, may have had the challenge of readjusting and to become reacquainted with your “new” home and the land of your birth.
Things have certainly changed from how they were prior to your departure many years ago and maybe you have experienced a little culture shock. To us who have not left the Jamaican shore, it may not be as apparent and we may become impatient with the pace of development on this island. Who knows, maybe this is your thinking as well. Nevertheless, whether we think the pace is acceptable or not, we can’t deny that some meaningful changes have taken place.
The Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) has undergone significant changes over the years. For example, years ago our passport service was moved from the old Spanish-Town-Road building that many of you were accustomed to and might have visited in the past to obtain your passport. We have also amalgamated our passport service with the immigration and citizenship services and have transferred those operations from a mere Division of the Ministry of National Security to form one efficient and effective service-oriented Executive Agency. Since then we have been basking in our new found independence and we are now responsible for many of the functions that were previously carried out by the Ministry of National Security.
Our aim as an Executive Agency is to give quality service to our customers. As such, we have implemented several initiatives to improve our service delivery to the public. For example, one can now obtain one’s passport quickly through our next-day and 3-day services. In addition, persons can now download an application form from our website and, once you are in Jamaica, you can track the status of your passport application online. People who are of Jamaican heritage can now obtain their Jamaican Citizenship by Descent in 30 days, given of course, that they can provide proof of their Jamaican lineage. Some of you may have had your children and grandchildren abroad and they may desire to claim their Jamaican citizenship. Well, I am here to tell you that they can do this with ease and whether they are here in Jamaica or still living abroad they can become Jamaicans in one month.
In another development our Immigration Officers, through the use of technology and careful planning, are now capable of processing airport passengers in only two minutes.
Now, when last have you visited our head office at 25 Constant Spring Road? The next time you visit that office you will notice changes that are designed to ensure that you are comfortable whilst you do business with us. We have removed the tent that many of you have complained about and we now have in place an air-conditioned solution for our customers. In addition we have regionalised some of our services so that the pressure is eased at that location. As such, in addition to applying for your passport at our Kingston and Montego Bay offices, you can now apply for your passport in Portmore, May Pen and Mandeville. We also do passport mobile service to allow customers the convenience of applying for their passports in their communities and in their offices.
Our latest initiative, in which we are most proud, is the introduction of automated immigration kiosks at the island’s two major international airports. These are machines with technology similar to the banks’ ATMs that allow the user to obtain service without having to interact with a person.
Through funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, we were able to implement the technology to enable the self-processing of incoming passengers at the airports.
On November 27, 2014 we launched 5 automated immigration kiosks at the Norman Manley International Airport and two weeks afterwards we launched 10 of these kiosks at the Sangster International Airport in time for the 2014/2015 Winter Tourist Season.
This is a tremendous achievement for the Agency. Jamaica is among the first to introduce automated immigration kiosks in the Caribbean. We are also among the first to use the technology to process non-nationals. In other words, other countries only process their nationals at the kiosks and non-nationals would have to be processed by their immigration officer, but here in Jamaica all who qualify can use the kiosks.
The kiosks will facilitate a speedier processing of passengers through immigration as travellers interaction with the system is approximately 60 seconds. In addition, the kiosks which are also referred to as automated border crossing (ABC) kiosks will allow PICA to better monitor the nation’s watch list for persons of interest.
In using the system, persons will be prompted to input certain information, their images will be captured onto the system and their passports scanned. Let me assure you that your information will be kept safe and secure on our system so you don’t need to be apprehensive about using it.
Though most travellers to Jamaica will be able to use the kiosks; some persons will not be able to utilize the system. Persons who will be allowed to use the kiosks are:
• Jamaican Nationals with a valid passport
• Visitors who possess electronic passport with biometric information (which is contained in an embedded chip)
• Caribbean Nationals who are members of CARICOM
• Passengers from the UK, Canada and the USA who have a Machine Readable Travel Document/Passport
Some persons have asked whether they will still need to fill out the immigration card now that we have automated immigration kiosks. The answer to this question is “yes”, you still need to fill out the card. Note that the card is a joint immigration/customs form which captures information for both PICA and Jamaica Customs. The data is also used by the tourist industry and the Ministry of Health to inform their operation.
Additionally, the information on the immigration section of the form is still a requirement as not all the data that is contained on it is captured by the kiosks. Another consideration is that some passengers; for example children below 18 years and persons in wheelchair, are not required to use the kiosks and their information would need to be captured on the immigration/customs form.
I know that much of the hue and cry about the immigration/custom form surrounds the perception that it lengthens the time one spend in immigration. In that regard let me suggest that you make it easier on yourselves and expedite the process by filling out the form whilst you are on the plane and en-route to Jamaica.
Travellers who possess passports of two different nationalities must ensure that they land on the same passport that was used to check-in on their flight; otherwise, they will not be processed at the kiosk.
I know some of you are holders of a non-Jamaican passport and you have your Jamaican passport as well. If you choose to travel on your non-Jamaican passport and you want to be landed in Jamaica on your Jamaican passport then it will not be possible for you to be processed at the ABC kiosks. In other words, if you want to use the kiosks so that you can move quickly through immigration then you must use your Jamaican passport to travel and you must submit the same passport when you arrive in Jamaica.
Now, you may ask, “what if I travel on the non-Jamaican passport and use the same passport to be landed here?” Well, you will be able to use the kiosk, but, you will be landed as a “visitor” to Jamaica and that means that you will be given a limited time to stay here. Now I know you do not want that. I know you would want the opportunity to stay here as long as you like.
On that note, let me remind you that if you travel on a non-Jamaican passport you can obtain unconditional landing to allow you to stay in Jamaica for as long as you desire. You still however would not be able to use the kiosks.
The feedback we have received so far from persons who have used the kiosks have been encouraging. Persons are appreciative of the system and are commending us for introducing it.
If you have not used it so far I invite you to do so when next you travel. Be sure to let us know what you think. Invite your children, grandchildren and friends to use the kiosks too, as this is fast becoming the way to go.
Our mission at PICA is to be world leaders in border management services. We have indeed taken several steps in achieving this goal but we have not yet arrived. We promise to continue to improve our service delivery to you in the years to come. The next time we meet I hope to report even more initiatives to ensure that we deliver world-class service to you our valued customers.
In closing I must thank you for returning to the land of your birth and for making home, your home again. You have seen and experienced much and there is a lot we can learn from you. I encourage you therefore to pass on what you have learnt and to allow our youths to sit at your feet and to benefit from your wisdom and counsel. In so doing, you will be doing your part in contributing to the positive and meaningful changes that we would like to see in our beloved island home. I know that some of you have not stopped contributing to this little island even from the day you left here. It is a fact that remittances contribute heavily to our economy and your contribution cannot go unrecognized. You were away but your heart has always been directed towards Jamaica. I believe that is why you have returned. So, on behalf of all Jamaicans living here, I thank you and thank you again for allowing me to be a part of your evening. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you all.