Haitians at Police Headquarters applying for visas
Haitians at Police Headquarters applying for visas

It's an excruciatingly awkward situation for the Roosevelt Skerrit administration, as Dominicans have become painfully aware of what appears to be an uncomfortable development within the ministry of labour and immigration regarding the issuance of visas and work permits to Haitians. For the team at the ministry, it's a case of hard labour.

The issue was first brought to the public by the opposition-leaning Q95 radio station when Matt Peltier quoted from a memorandum from the labour commissioner, Matthew LeBlanc, to the prime minister.

The 18-page document entitled "Report of the Labour Commissioner to the Prime Minister (Regarding Matters of Immigration and Labour)" , reads like a soap opera containing various elements of accusations, intrigue and meddling.

"As you may recall during your visit to my office on December 19, 2014 accompanied by the Honourable Ministers Colin McIntyre and Honourable Reginald Austrie you expressed the following concerns and requested information from me regarding these concerns," LeBlanc wrote. "According to you, you had information and evidence which indicates the staff of the Division of Labour and Immigration was (sic) involved in what you described as 'racketeering of visa/work permit,'" he continued.

The labour commissioner defended his staff, indicating that he was unaware of "any current involvement" of any of his staff in the alleged racketeering. However, he reminded the prime minister that he had raised concerns "about persons involved with visa applications" but that, he was never given "a listening" on these concerns.

Most damning in this memo are the examples listed where the labour commissioner said he was overruled by the political class when he attempted to "maintain the integrity" of the labour and immigration system.

He mentioned instances where he recommended the denial of visas to one farmer who had abused licence privileges and violated the terms and conditions of his contract for the importation of farm workers. Instead, he complained, and he was instructed to issue this farmer (name withheld by The Sun) with 25 visas to import more Haitians, having already violated his agreement to import a first batch of the same number.

"Investigations conducted by myself revealed that (this farmer) never applied for work permits for these migrant workers and they all disappeared from Dominica within a short space of time through unknown and unexplained means."

LeBlanc also mentioned three instances between 2009 and 2011, when he denied work permits to two "now famous" Haitian nationals because they were involved in "deceitful activities", including the importation of Haitians who would "suddenly disappear" from the country after they received work permits. On all three occasions, he wrote, his decision was overturned by the then minister of labour.

"Decisions and recommendations for the denial of visas which my office know to be part of an unethical and organised visa business involving Dominicans and Haitians are continuously overturned, nullified, reversed and overruled by my supervisors and managers," LaBlanc complained, adding that seven out of every 10 visas that his office denies are returned within weeks with instructions to issue them, and that six in 10 visas recommended for endorsement are pre-approved by the minister.

"The fact is the greater part of the approvals is not subject to the discretion or decision of the Labour Commissioner or the Division of Labour and Immigration."

The administration appears to have adopted the conceit that the less said about this, the better. A bemused opposition, in a case of splenetic outrage, sought answer through parliament by attempting to place a question about this matter on the order paper for the first sitting of the new parliament. But the then unelected speaker-in-waiting, Alix Boyd-Knights, rejected their request, claiming later that they were not yet MPs so they did not have the right to pose questions to the government.

The minister of national security and immigration, Rayburn Blackmore, in keeping with the conceit of silence, referred The Sun to a statement that he made in January.

"I made a statement on this issue and that statement stands," the minister said when asked to comment of the memo.

In a statement on the government controlled DBS Radio's Talking Point on 19 January, Blackmore announced that the administration had placed "a stay, so to speak" on the issuance of visas to Haitians in order to confront "challenges" within the immigration system.

And, although he was emphatic that Dominica did not have a human trafficking problem, the government would make act to curb trade that facilitates human trafficking, he said. However, that statement did not deal directly with the labour commissioner's memo, and a check with various media here has revealed that no one has seen a statement from the minister addressing the issue.

Blackmore would not say if an investigation was ongoing or when he would issue a statement on the matter, repeating that "my statement stands" when pressed for more information.

The copy of the memo which The Sun obtained was unsigned and has not been authenticated. However, no one has challenged its authenticity since Peltier began quoting from it on his radio show. And it remains an excruciatingly awkward and troublesome annoyance which the administration hopes will go away.