I INTRODUCTION TO THE IMMIGRATION FRAMEWORK
For centuries, Dominica has received immigrants from Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and its sister Caribbean islands, many of whom came to explore business opportunities. To date, the descendants of this group are still engaged in various areas of commerce.
The main focus of Dominica’s governments over the past 20 years regarding stimulating economic growth has been primarily in the areas of financial services, tourism and industrial activities. To bolster the policies of investment in tourism and industrial activities in a more structured and contemporary manner, the Invest Dominica Authority Act No. 9 of 2007 was enacted six years ago. This Act created a government agency called the Invest Dominica Authority (IDA). Apart from promoting and encouraging investment in Dominica, the IDA helps immigrants with business ventures, facilitating the entire process to ensure the success of their businesses.2
i Legislation and policy
A person intending to immigrate to Dominica is subject to the Immigration and Passport Act, Chapter 18:01. The Act, and the regulations and amendments thereto, provide the rules as to who may enter the country visa-free for a specified period, and who may be considered a bona fide tourist.
Under the government’s policies, generally administered by the Department of Labour under the Ministry of National Security, Immigration and Justice, there are two ways in which non-nationals may acquire a residence permit in Dominica.3 First, such a permit may be obtained when the person applies for a work permit either as a self-employed person through a company incorporated in Dominica, or for employment by a bona fide entity or institution. In such a case, a work permit automatically confers residence status if the term of employment is for more than six months. Under the second approach, the immigrant applies directly for a residence permit through the Department of Labour. This permit is usually valid for one year and can be renewed each year for up to five years, after which an immigrant may apply for permanent residence. Two years after obtaining permanent residence, the immigrant is entitled to apply for citizenship.4
The above-mentioned legislation and policies do not apply to nationals of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states pursuant to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), which allows the free movement of people.5
ii The immigration authorities
The authority responsible for immigration in Dominica is the Ministry of National Security, Immigration and Justice, headed by a government minister. Citizenship applications are processed by the Ministry’s Department of Immigration. The Department of Labour is responsible for processing visa applications. While the above-mentioned responsibilities lie with the Department of Labour, the authority for permitting actual entry into the country and the extension of stay in the country lies with the Passport and Immigration Department of the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force.
Notwithstanding the fact that there are consular offices for Dominica in New York and London, all visas and citizenship applications are processed in Dominica.
II INTERNATIONAL TREATY OBLIGATIONS
Dominica is a member of the International Labour Organization. Since 1983, the country has ratified a number of conventions, including Convention 97, which relates to migration for employment. Pursuant to Convention 97, Dominica is obligated, inter alia, to ensure application of the principle of non-discrimination for immigrants.6 Further, as a member of CARICOM, Dominica is a participant in the CSME, which came into effect in 2006. This regime permits a qualified CARICOM national to live and work in any CARICOM state that participates in the free movement regime without the need for a work permit7 (under the CSME, CARICOM Member States have committed to the free movement of people).
III THE YEAR IN REVIEW
There have been no major developments pertaining to Dominica’s immigration legislation over the past year.
IV EMPLOYER SPONSORSHIP
i Work permits
As long as an immigrant can satisfy the requirements prescribed by the Department of Labour, be it as a self-employed person or through a sponsor, a work permit will be issued. The criteria will include, inter alia, a medical certificate confirming that the applicant is in good health, a police clearance from the applicant’s country of birth and two testimonials, one of which shall be from the applicant’s most recent employer. The process usually takes from two to three months. There are no rights of appeal. This does not apply to nationals of CARICOM countries, which are participants in the free movement of people regime.8
ii Labour market regulation
As part of the policy for administering the processing of work permits, a sponsor who wishes to employ a non-national must advertise the available job in three issues of a local newspaper. Proof of the advertisements must be submitted as part of the documents in support of the application. This requirement is geared towards the protection of the labour market in Dominica.
iii Rights and duties of sponsored employees
An employee is obliged to remain with the same employer during the period of validity of the work permit. During the period of currency of the immigrant’s permit, the immigrant is protected by the country’s labour legislation. Once the immigrant’s stay is regularised,9 that person may remain in the country indefinitely and can apply for permanent residence.
V INVESTORS, SKILLED MIGRANTS AND ENTREPRENEURS
Since 1991, another key area of government economic activity has been Dominica’s economic citizenship programme. Becoming a naturalised Dominican via economic citizenship is rooted in Section 101 of the Constitution of Dominica10 and Sections 8 and 20(1) of the Citizenship Act.11 These legislative provisions authorise the government of Dominica to grant citizenship to any foreign national who qualifies under the policies of the economic citizenship programme.12 There are four methods of obtaining citizenship under the economic citizenship programme: the family option, applicant and spouse only, the single option and the property or real estate investment option.
i Government fund option
Under this option, the applicant pays US$175,000 for himself or herself and spouse, US$200,000 for himself or herself and up to three qualifying dependants, and where there are any other qualifying dependants, the amount of US$25,000 for each other qualifying dependant.
An additional US$25,000 per child is required for children who have turned 18 but are younger than 28 years old, are in full-time attendance at a recognised institution of higher learning and are fully supported by the main applicant. This classification also applies to the following:
- an unmarried daughter of the main applicant who is 28 years old or under and is living with and fully supported by the main applicant;
- a child of the main applicant or spouse of the main applicant who is above the age of 18 and physically or mentally handicapped, and who is fully supported by the applicant; and
- parents or grandparents of the main applicant or his or her spouse above the age of 55 living with and fully supported by the main applicant.
ii Applicant and spouse option
Under this option, the applicant pays US$175,000, which qualifies the applicant and his or her spouse for economic citizenship. Where the main applicant has up to three qualifying dependants, the applicant pays US$200,000, and for any qualifying dependant thereafter the applicant pays US$25,000 for each additional dependant.
iii Single option
Under this option, a single applicant pays US$100,000.
iv Real estate investment option
To qualify for citizenship of Dominica under the real estate option of the citizenship by investment programme, an applicant must purchase authorised real estate of a minimum value of US$200,000.
Following approval of a real estate investment application, the following government fees are payable:
- US$25,000 for the main applicant;
- US$35,000 for the main applicant and spouse;
- US$35,000 for a family of up to four;
- US$50,000 for a family of up to six; and
- US$70,000 for a family of seven or more.
Given that the application procedure under this option entails the purchase of real estate, this can prolong the processing time, which will depend on the chosen property. The government has entered into an agreement with Range Development and Kempinksi Hotels to provide this real estate option to applicants.
The real estate must be held for three years but is only eligible for resale under the citizenship by investment programme five years after the original purchase date.
VI OUTLOOK AND CONCLUSIONS
Although the local legislation supports most of the international conventions that have been ratified, Dominica has a number of outdated policies still extant. While wide powers are given to the Minister for Immigration under the Immigration and Passport Act, there are no supporting regulations and most, if not all, of the procedures, are left to the Minister’s discretion.
For example, there are no regulations for the issuing of visas, work and residence permits. In light of the foregoing, there is an urgent need for the enactment of modernised immigration legislation in Dominica to significantly decrease the wide use of discretionary powers.
1 Colleen Felix-Grant is a solicitor and barrister-at-law providing corporate, civil and immigration legal services, and Sam M Bayat is the senior resident lawyer at Bayat Legal Services.
4 Constitution of Dominica, Chapter 1, Section 100 (1)(a).
5 ‘A Guide to the Free Movement of People within the CSME States’, by CARICOM and the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration.
6 C97 Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) 1949.
7 Op. cit. 3.
8 Op. cit. 3.
9 Section 9(1) of the Immigration and Passport Act, Chapter 18:01 of the 1990 Revised Laws of Dominica.
10 Constitution of Dominica, Chapter 1.
11 Commonwealth of Dominica Citizenship Act, Chapter 1:10.