Mourners hold candles during a vigil for drowned migrants in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday. Over 20 Venezuelans reportedly drowned in Guiria on their way to T&T over the weekend.

Venezuelans will remain in Trinidad and Tobago and be allowed to work legally until July.

Government will extend the period for legally registered Venezuelans from December 31 for another six months – and Government will decide what status they’ll be given.

However, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who announced this yesterday, said those here who’ve been encouraging Venezuelans to come to T&T illegally will be the “at the head of the line” to be sent back – and stiffer laws on illegals and human trafficking are coming.

Rowley announced the Government latest plan for the migrants at yesterday’s post- Cabinet media conference, which he devoted solely to the Venezuelan migrant issue affecting T&T’s profile. It came even as international bodies continued to criticise T&T for not offering more help to Venezuelan migrants seeking refuge in this country, in the wake of a boating accident in Guiria last weekend in which 20 Venezuelans on there way to T&T drowned.

Amnesty International joined the list of foreign entities doing so yesterday. (See page 6)

However, Rowley stood his ground on the issue.

The Prime Minister defended his remarks against the Organisation of American State’s handling of matters concerning Venezuela and added that the issue of Venezuela won’t go away when he becomes Caricom chairman in February.

On the upcoming extension, he said when Venezuelans’ current extension ends on December 31, he will speak to Cabinet and the National Security Minister on allowing them to remain for another six months.

Moving into the next phase, on January 1, after the announcement of the registration exercise, Venezuelans will be required to re-register.

As they update registering, he added: “We will determine what status we give them. There are many who can contribute to our development. And maybe one day a Venezuelan can speak to the days when her parents came here before she was born in T&T.”

Rowley said one of the things Government cannot do is mass deportations.

“We’ll go through (the re-registration) and if you have been staying here and encouraging illegals to come here, you’re at the head of the line to go back home!” he said.

“On the other hand, if you stayed here and are deemed a contributor and not involved in illegal activities and especially if you have skills, then we, like other states look at it in a certain way.”

The PM presented the 2013 African Pacific Caribbean Report for the enforcement of immigration laws during his presentation. He said the Government had been systematically introducing the immigration recommendations in the report over the years but there were now people who were spewing a certain narrative to make the Government look bad.

Rowley said during the six-month extension for migrants, there will also be changes in the law. But it might not be what some are asking for – which is to have an open-door policy for economic migrants to come to T&T in large numbers.

“The most you will see in that change is new and firmer law for people who encourage the illegal trade and stiffer penalties for human trafficking,” he said.

He said there are people in Venezuela who arrange for people to come to T&T for profit and are trafficking them and there are people in T&T, including law enforcement officers, who are receiving and assisting them here. One of the laws being upgraded will make it less attractive for them to do that, he said.

Rowley underscored that anyone encouraging people to come to T&T illegally is a criminal breaking the law.

Other changes coming on migrant issues

• T&T is “getting there” on the 2013 African Pacific Caribbean Report’s recommendations for enforcement of immigration laws and stiffer penalties on employers for breach of these laws.

• Government will also “get there” on a recommendation for workplaces to be vigilantly regulated and monitored by Government, guarding against exploitation of workers and for abusive employers to be prosecuted.

• Government has been considering a recommendation that T&T “should consider” signing on to international conventions for the protection of migrant workers and their families. This is considered against the background of T&T’s specific local and current circumstances. “When we consider what we do here, we have to ask what effect it’ll have and we ensure we don’t cut our nose and spoil our face.”

• A strategy for refugee emergencies was developed and communicated to the main organisations in this field. The strategy was to give the UNHCR and Living Waters the right to register people who come in as migrants. But that will have to change because Government is in a position to do this, as it has evidence by registering those who entered legally and illegally.

• Government’s “getting there “on a recommendation for a report on “overstayers.”