By Khaila Gentle
BELMOPAN, Tues. Aug. 2, 2022
The soft launch of the Amnesty 2022 Program—the third program of its kind—was held this Tuesday, and in the coming months, it is expected to help thousands of irregular migrants and asylum seekers who have been living in Belize, many of whom have already scheduled appointments with the Ministry of Immigration. Through the program, those migrants, once successful, will be able to obtain permanent residency status and, eventually, citizenship.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Immigration, the application period for Amnesty 2022 will run from August 2, 2022 to November 30, 2022. Thereafter, the processing period will run from December 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry held an opening ceremony for its soft launch at the Belize Amnesty Registration Center in Belmopan, during which the CEO in the Ministry, Dr. Gilroy Middleton, remarked that the main focus of the program is managing migration, national security, socioeconomic development, and international humanitarian assistance.
Dr. Middleton also noted that lessons learned from mistakes made during past amnesty programs were taken into consideration when plans were being made for the implementation of Amnesty 2022. For example, during the 1984 amnesty program, the Police Department was in charge of managing immigration. Individuals applying to the program would go to the various police stations in the country for assistance during the process, which disrupted the work of the police. This time around, the Amnesty team has prepared three registration centers in every district—one in urban areas and two in rural areas.
“In the past it was simply filling out a card. Now there’s a process, an application, interviews carried out, detailed security checks by the Police Department, and we’ve even gone as far as amending the law and preparing regulations, so this was taken to the National Assembly and the Senate, where it was passed in both locations,” he also said.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Immigration, Hon. Ramon “Monchi” Cervantes, is urging all those persons who qualify for amnesty to set up their appointments and apply for their permanent residency.
“It is an opportunity that might be an opportunity of a lifetime. It might happen again, but again it might not. So, please, take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
According to Minister Cervantes, the Ministry has invested somewhere around $3 million in the Amnesty 2022. Overall, the program is expected to benefit up to 60,000 migrants living in Belize, many of whom fled their home nations in search of a better life.
To qualify for the program, undocumented migrants must meet one of eight criteria: be a registered asylum seeker with the Department of Refugees before March 31, 2020; have resided in Belize before 31st December 2016; have at least 1 child born in Belize on or before December 2016; have completed any level of schooling in Belize; be married to a Belizean, or be in a common-law union with a Belizean for at least 5 years; be a child or victim of human trafficking referred by the Department of Human Resources; have applied for refugee status; or have maintained gainful employment in Belize for 5 years.
“We are looking at individuals that have been in Belize for several years. We are looking at individuals that have invested in Belize, individuals that have family in Belize,” said Dr. Middleton.
Successful applicants who are granted permanent residency will have to wait at least five years before they can apply for citizenship.
In 1984, when Belize’s first amnesty program was held, 8,680 undocumented migrants were regularized. A decade and a half later, in 1999, 11,168 persons were regularized.