KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Vincentian business people and artistes are among those who stand to benefit if the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) secures Schengen Visa waiver status, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Tuesday.
The Schengen Visa has made traveling between its 25 member countries — 22 European Union states and 3 non-EU members — much easier and less bureaucratic.
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis have been awarded Schengen Visa waiver status and the OECS is seeking to apply as a group.
Gonsalves noted that Vincentians do not need visas to Martinique or Guadeloupe but need visa to go to France and Belgium and some other European countries that participate in the Schengen Visa waiver programme.
“If we get a waiver of the Schengen Visa arrangements, it means that Vincentians would be able to go to these countries in Europe, which are all the major countries in Europe, without a visa,” he said.
He, however, noted that the visa would not eliminate the limits to length of stay and other requirements, such as letters of invitation, and proof of financing when visiting some countries.
“This is important to our business people who have business to do in Europe and it is very important to our cultural artiste, our entertainers, our calypsonian, soca artistes, song writers, our painters, everyone who is involved in the field of the creative arts or work of the creative imagination,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that there is a huge market in Europe, adding that France has about 60 huge festivals a year while Belgium has about 35.
“They love our Caribbean music. They (artistes) should be able to get the opportunity to be able to go there to perform, to make a living from it,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the concessions he announced in this year’s budget for persons in the creative arts to buy equipment for their businesses was part of the thrust to creative more opportunities for Vincentians.
“… these are to feed into this quest, this thrust to lift further the business of the exporting cultural industries and under the economic partnership agreement between CARIFORUM and the European reunion this is an opportunity for us,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that while the government needs to provide the framework and the support, the persons who stand to benefit must become more professional in their work and “lift their own game”.
“Because we can facilitate, we can provide all the kinds of assistance but at the end of the day, it is real flesh and blood people who perform creative works of art,” Gonsalves said, adding that he wants “to open the space for Vincentians all over the world”.
“Of course, to do that, we have to make sure we behave properly at home; we don’t have excessive crime because excessive crime in Jamaica and Trinidad, particularly violent crime, caused a difficulty for those countries to have visa waivers. In fact, they require visas to the U.K. and Canada…” Gonsalves said.