Antigua – The Chief Immigration Officer Colonel Ivor Walker said immigrants are still turning up across the island with illegal immigration stamps in their travel documents, months after two Guyanese nationals were caught and charged for using the stamps.
“People are still coming up with this false stamp. It seems like it was a big business outside of the immigration — not perpetrated by the immigration officers but by persons from the immigrant community,” Colonel Walker told this newspaper.
Walker disclosed that now the word of the fraud is out, more persons have visited his department and have volunteered information about having the stamp, how they got it and how much they paid.
He said the financial and other costs at which the stamp is obtained are not worth it.
According to the immigration chief, in some cases, it has been reported that persons paid as much as $1,800 for an illegal extension which legally costs from as low as $75 to $1,500.
“If the person is a domestic worker, on average, based on the salary scale, they probably pay $500 for a work permit and $75 to $175 the most for the endorsement of the stamp. The possibility of being caught and charged … getting a deported stamp in one’s passport; it’s not worth it,” Walker said.
He urged persons to “be honest and be upfront because it is only a matter of time before you are caught, because once you enter this country legally you are on the books.”
Asked whether he had any idea how the stamp got into the hands of the two Guyanese nationals who are currently before the court awaiting sentencing for forging and using the stamps, Walker explained that modern technology allows for a copy of the stamp to be made.
He said it does not appear that persons within the department are involved as the stamp used by the fraudsters Latchman Bhola and Zena Mooneswar, who have both pleaded guilty, does not have any of the security features of the official immigration stamp.
Bhola was caught at the airport when he attempted to re-enter the country last October. Mooneswar was caught under different circumstances.
Initially they had pleaded not guilty but had a change of heart earlier this year and admitted to using the stamps in their passports and in the travel documents belonging to other persons.
Both Bhola and Mooneswar face deportation.