Chinese nationals to get automatic citizenship after seven years

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— three-year work permits to be granted
— President announces

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday announced a raft of measures to make life easier for Chinese immigrants here, including automatic citizenship for those lawfully resident for seven years and an increase in the duration of a work permit from one year to three years.
But he implored them to live within the law and to report anyone purporting to be a government official and soliciting bribes from them for granting citizenship or work
permits.

He said the measures are in part to ensure that Chinese immigrants are not discriminated against or taken advantage of by unscrupulous persons, declaring that the government was taking a firm stand against any kind of exploitation or discrimination.
President Jagdeo addressed more than 400 persons of Chinese descent who turned out for the meeting at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, Greater
Georgetown.

He announced too that a representative group from the Chinese community will be put together to ensure the commitments he made yesterday are followed up on and implemented without undue delay.
“You are welcome in Guyana”, he assured the gathering to warm applause.
“Of recent, I had a great need to reiterate this welcome because of the very worrying tendencies among sections of Guyanese and the media. Some people have developed a form of xenophobia. I want you to know that this is not the official policy of the government”, Mr. Jagdeo stressed.
Outlining the new steps to repeated applause, he said the Chinese people are an important part of Guyana’s history.
“I expect that the Chinese coming now will continue to make a valuable contribution to our society”, he said, adding that the meeting yesterday was to get rid of the perception that Guyana is an unwelcoming society and ensure that the people who follow the laws enjoy a stay here free from discrimination and harassment.
The President said he had heard horror stories people experienced getting work permits extended, noting that they often have to offer bribes.
He said that many Chinese have lived here for many years and when they apply for citizenship they experience great difficulties.
“Some of them live here for 20 years and yet cannot acquire citizenship”, he said.

On the treatment of Chinese people, Mr. Jagdeo said that because of the industriousness of the immigrants, some members of the business community will see them as a threat and they have adverse things to say.
“These are just some of the things that I know you face”, he said.
He noted also that some people’s passports are held by their employers, adding, “This is something I don’t appreciate.”
“Guyana has a duty to welcome immigrants”, he said, noting that at one time Guyanese were leaving these shores in search of better opportunities in other countries.
“The process of coming here must be made easier for those coming to work lawfully. I have spoken to members of my government and [we have decided] that any Chinese person living here for seven years will automatically receive citizenship. People who come to work [will be issued] a work permit [valid for] three years”, he announced.
“The reason I am doing this is because I want to remove the discretion from individuals who can hold people to ransom. I want to ensure that people are not harassed. This
allows people to live a decent life and to be able to travel back and forth”, he said.
On complaints that some immigrants experience visa difficulties in Suriname, President Jagdeo said he has already raised this issue with President Desi Bouterse of that
country.
“We have agreed to work together to streamline the process”, he said but warned that the courtesies being extended are for those who are complying with the laws of Guyana.
“Those who break the law will not be afforded the same level of protection. You have to promise to live within the laws of the country; that you will take steps to integrate
with the society”, he urged the gathering.
The President told them that while learning English is not compulsory, they should make the effort to do so since it will simplify the process of integration.
He also urged them to ensure that they send their children to school, even if the instruction is done in Chinese.
“[You should] ensure that people of all races and religion are employed in your business”, he said.
“I don’t want to hear of people being trafficked or having to work against their will,” he said, noting that people are sometimes “ferried” in and are exploited through the
work permit mechanism.
He added that while he wants people of all races and religions to receive the same opportunities, there may be times when specific skills sets are needed and hence the
necessity to import those skills.
He told the gathering: “I want you to be a part of the vision of Guyana that we are trying to build, where there is increasing prosperity and wealth.”
At the end of the President’s presentation, he allowed questions from the audience and directed officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs to address some of the individual
concerns raised.
Among officials at the meeting were officers from the Immigration Department to deal with specific problems that some of the immigrants might be facing.