By Caribbean News Now contributor
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- In a statement on Wednesday, Mark Bysfield, Consul General at the US Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean and the OECS, confirmed that the United States has not requested any changes to passports issued by the government of St Kitts and Nevis.
Furthermore, Bysfield said, the missing biographic information has resulted in holders of St Kitts and Nevis passports who apply for US visas experiencing delays in processing times.
The issue arose last week when Erasmus Williams, the prime minister’s press secretary, told local media that the removal of the place of birth from passports issued by St Kitts and Nevis was done at the request of the US government.
Williams later resiled from this claim, saying “Although the US government was aware of St Kitts and Nevis’ decision to make this change following guidelines from The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), it was not made at their request."
However, Bysfield also rejected the subsequent claim that the omission conformed to ICAO guidelines.
“We note that the press secretary to the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis has clarified that no such request was ever made by the United States. In fact, the International Civil Aviation Organization specifies place of birth as a key element of biographic data for machine readable and e-passports,” Bysfield said.
According to the consul general, the US government notified the St Kitts and Nevis government that versions of the St Kitts and Nevis passport that lack key elements of biographic data have caused the US government to require additional documentation from applicants for US visas to evaluate their eligibility. Because of the missing biographic data, holders of St Kitts and Nevis passports who apply for US visas have experienced delays in processing times.
This issue of the missing place of birth information has achieved some prominence in relation to the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment programme, under which foreign investors pay a minimum of US$250,000 to a government fund and receive a St Kitts-Nevis passport in return.
The recent alert issued by the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FINCEN), warning financial institutions to be cautious in dealing with St Kitts and Nevis passport holders and accusing the programme of having lax controls and being attractive to illicit actors, has served to refocus attention on this issue.
It is by no means certain that the decision to remove the place of birth from St Kitts-Nevis passports was or should have been made with reference to ICAO guidelines, except to the extent of whether or not it was permissible in the first place.
According to Dr Timothy Harris, the leader of Team Unity, the opposition coalition in St Kitts and Nevis, it is clear that the US government considers St Kitts and Nevis passports a risky commodity.
“Our citizens are now experiencing tremendous difficulties in accessing US ports because our citizenship programme has gone out of control, lax and non-transparent, and a magnet for illicit actors. We need fresh elections to restore our country's good name,” Harris said.
ICAO made us do it, not US, says St Kitts-Nevis government