Are you planning to travel to the Caribbean? Tell us what you think about this issue
Mike Agostini, who had been Trinidad and Tobago's honorary consul in Australia since 1981 until his resignation earlier this month, has told Cricinfo that the shambles surrounding the decision to insist on new visas for many visitors to the World Cup caused him to quit.
The implementation of a US$100 visa for many foreigners intending to travel to the Caribbean between January and May has been justified by the local authorities as a measure to ease travel between islands as well as allowing for improved security measures. But it has been attacked by critics as being little more than another move to exploit visitors to a region where travellers already face substantial price hikes ahead of the tournament.
The biggest stir has come in Australia, where despite assurances that a system was being established to guarantee a swift and efficient processing of applications, Agostini has explained that the reality is quite different.
The decision to introduce the visas, which allow for free transfer between islands, seems to have been rushed through, and Agostini said that it was pushed through in "no more than months and even then [it was] not properly investigated and carefully considered or else reconsidered. Especially when the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, wrote to all the governments involved asking them not to do what they did."
He went on to explain that his resignation was not because of the visas but "on account of the sloppy and still seemingly hap-hazard manner in which the attempted implementation of the arduous and lengthy processes of actually issuing these visas occurred, or more so still have failed even to get started yet.
"It is estimated that there will be about 7,000 Australians and up to 3,000 New Zealanders needing these visas, which will take up to three weeks to be issued, after filling out the forms from an internet site, Caricomimpacs.org, of which only a few travel agents are even aware, much less ordinary travellers. Simple logistics suggest that if each visa requires only 30 minutes of handling (but more like one or even two hours if security checks are to be made, as the site states), that would mean some 5,000 total, which obviously translates to 208 days total. And even if they put 50 people on to doing them that would still mean about 41 days or more, if all worked full-time, 24 hours daily! My God! Who did their homework on this?"
Agostini, who was Trinidad and Tobago's first Olympic sprint finalist in 1956 and who won the Commonwealth Games 100 yards gold in 1954, said that while the officials supposed to be running a mission to process applications arrived in Sydney on December 2 and 3, they "suddenly disappeared and stopped communicating or else responding to emails from us (giving no mobile or other numbers for anyone to call, as far as we can tell) and are essentially still missing. The leader, I am reliably informed, has been ill and in hospital for several days ... they have not completed the lease for the offices at 88 Pitt Street, which are still empty, the computers sent from Ottawa, Canada were still in storage at Fedex in Sydney awaiting collection, but with no offices yet there is nowhere to install them. Even then it will take up to five days for installation and several more days to training the mission staff in their use and so far no Australian staff have been employed." In the meantime, Agostini and his son, who had done all the groundwork to set up the mission, remain substantially out of pocket for all they have done.
Things can only get worse, as more and more Aussies and Kiwis discover that they cannot travel to the Caribbean, even if only for a cruise and not the cricket, without having such a stamp inserted into their passports
"Since the visas become mandatory from January 15 onwards things can only get worse, as more and more Aussies and Kiwis discover that they cannot travel to the Caribbean, even if only for a cruise and not the cricket, without having such a stamp inserted into their passports. There is already one instance of someone wanting to go on a Caribbean cruise, with no interest whatsoever in the cricket and not even at the time it'll be on, being told by their travel agent that they will not be able to board the cruise liner without it.
"I am truly sorry to see how this is hampering as well as harming so many people and also my own native country, which I still love dearly," he continued, "and if given the opportunity and full support, including financial at whatever costs, I would be willing to consider consulting and trying to put what looks like a Humpty Dumpty project together again, even if it'll be too late for many people, too many."
Cricket Australia has already said it will raise the issue, but it seems that barring some hasty action by the Caribbean authorities, many people heading to the region ahead of the World Cup will risk doing so without visas. There also have to be some serious doubts if the systems will be in place in time for the tournament itself.
Whether the whole exercise works in practice come March is another issue altogether, but on the evidence so far, something aimed to ease travel and ensure greater security in the Caribbean is set to do quite the opposite.
Information on the issuing sites, visa application form and the Instruction Sheet are available on IMPACS website at: www.caricomimpacs.org.