My Jamaican Immigrations Experience - An American Retiree in JamaicaPublished Aug 1, 2011
Jamaican Immigrations is a very complex and bureaucratic ministry, like most government agencies anywhere in the world. It has been very frustrating for me my whole time in Jamaica. The process from the beginning was very slow and unpredictable. Nine years ago the process wasn’t as easy as it appears today. I say that because back then nothing seemed to be organized as both the system and the staff didn’t seem to be on the same page. In my case, when I went to Kingston to apply for permanent residency, which is still today the only office that handles this procedure, there weren’t any forms to fill out either in person or on the internet. The interviewer first asked us why we wanted to move to Jamaica. She then instructed us to put it in writing before we could proceed any further. We did this with the paper and pen she supplied. Next we were handed a list of documents we needed to supply before permanent residency could be granted.
Some of the documents needed were easy to obtain while others took an extended period of time such as the police certificate from the state from which we were migrating. In Massachusetts, this can only be done through the mail or on the internet. It took months for us to get our reports due to a number of reasons. When we began our quest for this document it was free but by the time we obtained it there was a cost involved. So you can see, even in Massachusetts the bureaucracy is prevalent. The other time consuming documents to secure were everything to do with our finances. They not only wanted year-end statements of earnings but, in the case of my pensions, they wanted proof from the providers that these were life long benefits and not just for a certain term.
The other required documents were much easier to obtain such as valid passport, original birth certificate, marriage certificate, medical certificate of good general health, two passport size photos, and letters from two reputable Jamaican citizens. The latter could be difficult if one doesn’t know many people in Jamaica.
Today there is a form to be filled out and can be obtained from their website, which I will give you later. I noticed on the form that many of the documents I needed weren’t listed but it’s safe to assume they will be needed before the process is completed. There was one document on the form not mentioned on my list and that is a return ticket/itinerary. Other than the form itself, there is no indication on the site that I could find as to what the process entails or how long it takes. I was told it took three years but it actually took five years because of the much dreaded bureaucracy. In the beginning I assumed once the process got started it would be smooth sailing until completion. After the normal three years had passed I started to contact immigrations periodically so they would know who I was plus I would be able to handle any problem that arose then rather than waiting to confront it at the annual visit to Kingston.
Some other things not noted on the website is the annual visit and multi-entry visas. Each year, while you are still in the process of obtaining permanent residency, you are required to return to immigrations in Kingston on or before your anniversary date on the extension they give you in your passport. You need to obtain the visa if you plan to travel off the island any time during the year. It is much easier to get the visa while you are there for your annual visit than to try to get one should you decide later to travel off the island. A change that has been made recently is that visas may now be obtained at the Montego Bay office. However, that office only acts as a free messenger as they send your passports to Kingston for the visas are only granted in Kingston.
Time seems to be moving faster than immigrations can cope with. Nine years ago a visa can be issued the same day as the annual visit but that changed several years later when we had to make the long eight hour round trip a week later to pick up the visa. Today the process is even longer. The Montego Bay office takes twice as long supposedly. But on June 22nd of this year, we went to the Montego Bay office as it was getting close for the time to renew our visas. We were given a receipt there for our passports which stated they would be returned on July 4th. On July 5th, we received a call from immigrations in Kingston that the visas were approved but they needed a copy of the document that proved we were in fact permanent residents, a procedure that the Montego Bay office knew nothing about. The Kingston copy is somewhere in immigrations’ archives which can’t be accessed for the visa renewal. The next day we took our letter to the Montego Bay office where the clerk made a copy and indicated it would be sent to Kingston. We have made several inquiries since then but as of this date, July 20th, the passports have not been returned.
Knowing Murphy’s Law all too well, we applied for the visa renewals two months in advance of their expiration and our annual trip to the states figuring that would be ample time even if there were some kind of snafu. So, instead of 7-10 working day, it has been 20 working days and counting. The good thing about the new renewal is instead of the visa expiring every two years it now lasts for the life of our passports and at the same cost as a one year renewal was nine years ago.
Ministry of National Security and Justice
Immigration, Citizenship and Passport Division