Heated debate in Parliament over new visitor’s visa law

Refugees, asylum seekers and the idea of waiving visa fees for U.S. nationals were among the issues raised during the last day of Parliament at Tuana’imato yesterday.

The issues surfaced during the discussion of the Immigration Amendment Bill 2017, which was tabled and passed after the third reading.

The bill increases the duration of a visitor’s visa from 60 t0 90 days.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who is also the Minister of Immigration, explained the importance of the legislation.

“In 2015, many of the European countries have added Samoan passport on to their free visa entrance list, but not all E.U. countries,” he said. “This means that when our people visit these countries, there is no need for a visa.”

This was not always the case, Tuilaepa said.

“I remember back when I attended a meeting in the E.U. I had to wait for a couple of hours for confirmation that I was there attending a meeting. However that has changed and now visiting Europe is much flexible." 

“Also the E.U. invested $60 million for our water tank which now caters to the public.”

According to the Prime Minister, the government’s efforts are in line with most of the countries that have similar legislations, such as Fiji in terms of visitors’ visas. 

He downplayed concerns about terrorists exploiting the visa.

 “Those terrorists will not reach our shores as they will get caught in other countries,” he said. 

“We also have the Transnational Crimes Unit in Samoa who deals with issues such as these.” 

The amendment, however, was strongly opposed by Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai.

“We don’t usually visit Europe unless it’s official trips,” he said.

“Unlike us, there is an influx of Europeans visiting Samoa."

“There should still be in place stringent policies to govern our boarders. Another issue at hand is that the 60 days shouldn’t be increased, rather it should be decreased." 

“It should be decreased to 30 days; the world is not safe anymore from terrorism." 

“Also there are an increasing number of refugees and I believe that 90 days is just too long for a visitor’s visa." 

“The government should reconsider this amendment. The 90 day Visitor’s Visa would open the door for refugees to enter under false pretense.” 

Olo called on the Speaker to consider these concerns. 

“No tourist would come and stay here for two weeks or a month, yet the visitors permit is up to three months.” 

Olo’s questions angered Prime Minister Tuilaepa, who said there is nothing Samoa can do about refugees.

 “Whether we pass this law or not there will always be refugees who will do everything in their power to attempt and enter,” said Tuilaepa. 

He sharply reminded Olo that he is in the nightclub business. 

“And in that business no tourists would come to your place of business to buy your beer if you disagree with the amendment at hand,” he said.

The Prime Minster then launched a verbal barrage on Olo.

“Despite the fact that the Liquor Board is well aware that you broke the law, they continue to be patient with you,” Tuilaepa said.

“You shouldn’t jump the gun and voice concerns about issues here and there. You should look at yourself to see if you haven’t violated any laws.”

Olo was unperturbed.

 “When you talk about breaking the law, you’re talking to these people,” he said while pointing to Cabinet Ministers.

“But not all of you are criminals, just some.”

Back to the issue at hand, Olo said: “I am shocked to hear of refugees who have gained entrance into Samoa. How did they get visitors’ visa and where are they staying?" 

“Also where are the funds allocated from the U.N. to care for these refugees?”

Tuilaepa interfered and made it clear, that whether the amendment passes or not there will always be refugees. 

“They come here as tourists and later on it’s uncovered they are refugees."

“Also within the Attorney General’s Office, there are 50 top notch lawyers working in that office who assure that Samoa 'is well protected' from refugees."  

“If anyone comes as a refugee, there are policies in place to deal with refugees,” he said. 

Member of Parliament, Faumuina Wayne Fong, inquired as to why other countries would come over for free on the visitor’s visa, yet neighboring island American Samoa need to pay a permit. 

“Our people no longer travel to Tutuila but their people visit us and when they’re here they spend money and it’s good for the economy,” said Faumuina. 

“Never mind how they have been acting lately in terms of immigration but I think we should open the door for Tutuila and let them come here to spend their money here for us.” 

Prime Minister said there have been consultations. 

“Initially we paid entry permit fee of $5, however for Tutuila they travel over free of charge and only an idiotic government would let others travel here for free while we pay to enter their country.” 

The Prime Minister also mentioned that one time Samoa was fined with US$20,000 (T$50,558) for not complying with immigration laws in terms of visitor’s permits. 

“However the issue was that they amended their laws without informing us and so when passengers traveled to Samoa without permits, we were fined $20,000 and that’s what prompted the Cabinet to implement reciprocity that if we pay visa fees, they will pay visa fees as well." 

“The Governor during his visits has requested for things to go back the way they were, but that was not happening.” 

Tuilaepa assured that as soon as Samoan Citizens gain free entrance into American Samoa, the same principle will be applied for U.S. Nationals.  

Parliament has been adjourned until next year.

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