Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has responded to persons who have questioned the benefits to Vincentians of the visa-waiver agreement that his government signed with Russia last month.
The agreement was signed even as the United States has not extended to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and three other independent Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States members, the privilege of their citizens not travelling to the US Embassy in Bridgetown as part of the visa renewal process.
Gonsalves said he had heard that persons had questioned the sense in the Kingstown-Moscow visa-waiver agreement.
“Who going Russia? How many Russians coming here,” he said, citing what he said were the comments of his critics.
“As always, people think in a very static manner,” he said, adding that the same thing was said when SVG signed a similar agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Gonsalves said he remembers that around that time he was going to Young Island to meet with the UAE officials, he met three Vincentian young ladies who lauded the visa-waiver pact.
“Three young ladies, all professional women came out from Mangoz [restaurant] and they said, ‘We are hearing about this thing with the visa waiver, when is it going to happen?’”
He said that women told him that they want to go to the UAE since they have friends and there are opportunities there.
“I often find it amazing that persons who are supposed to help to shape public opinion are so far behind people. They don’t know really about people, you know.
“If you want a lot of mischief, you could go and get it from some people who want to shape public opinion. But real substantial questions which influence people’s lives — Russia is the largest territorial area of any nation state in the world,” he said.
He noted that Russia has about 140 million people and is the successor to the superpower that was the Soviet Union.
“We are 150 square miles, we are 110,000 people. The very fact that Russia would sit down with us to want to sign a visa waiver agreement would tell you that they have some idea of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and its growing profile.”
The prime minister said that the critics don’t know that Russians didn’t require a visa to visit SVG.
He said only nationals of Afghanistan, Iran Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic need such visa.
“As a small country, the more countries with which we have a visa-waiver, the better. We are a migrant people and we are open, also for tourism,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that even with a visa waiver, there are a maximum number of days that one can stay without a visa.
The prime minister said immigration officials can decide the length of stay on a visa, up to that maximum number of days, or can deny entry altogether if the person is undesirable.