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National Security Minister Stuart Young.

Trinidad and Tobago nationals abroad seeking exemptions to enter the country will, from Monday, have to apply online.

National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday announced the introduction of a new system for persons planning to return, or leave, T&T, noting they will now have to do so via a website, where they will be asked to fill out a form similar to the one used when applying for a visa.

“What this form has is a number of essential questions. One of the questions is when did you last leave Trinidad and Tobago,” Young said at a media briefing yesterday

The information provided on the form will be verified with the Immigration Division, he explained.

Applicants need only submit one form per family.

“If you are filling out the form for yourself and family members, there is the information for yourself and family members in the same form,” Young said.

“The form will produce a unique identification number. The form goes into a database, then sends emails over time to say where your application has reached.”

Some unique features of the online system include the ID number that will be assigned for each application and that it will used as a statutory declaration.

Young explained that the new system will assist in prioritising people with good reason for wanting to return home. He said the number of applications for exemptions had increased significantly in recent months.

As of July 29, 2020, Young said 5,539 people had applied for exemptions but by November 20 there were 7,895 applications. As of yesterday, 19,941 applications were made to enter T&T and 11,682 of those had been granted.

“Persons who have left in October, who have left in November and then what they are seeing, they are putting it in their reason to return, seeing the effects of a deadly virus, so certain persons in the UK have reached out and said, ‘Look, I can’t handle being in a United Kingdom hospital’,” Young said.

Young said nationals who applied for an exemption months ago and did not get approval will have to reapply through the new system. He said some people have applied up to 20 times, causing a backlog in the current system.

Young said while he is not worried about the system being hacked, he will not rule out the possibility of the site crashing if there are too many users at once.

In a swift response to the announcement, however, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar described the introduction of the online system as a clear admission by Young that “he has failed the people of Trinidad and Tobago with his poorly conceived exemption process.”

“Minister Stuart Young should be ashamed that for over ten months he abdicated his constitutional responsibilities to the people of this nation by failing to implement a proper mechanism to repatriate citizens wishing to return home. For ten months the Minister neglected the cries of innocent citizens, leaving them in turmoil due to his “politics before people” approach,” Persad-Bissessar said in s statement.

“The fact is the threat from the virus facing our nation today is the same as it was ten months ago, and the Government should have had a proper plan and a transparent and fair system in place.”

Persad-Bissessar said the new system does not address the root cause of the problem.