Permanent Jamaican Residency Obtained – An American Retiree in Jamaica

It finally happened! On Friday September 21, 2007, my wife and I became permanent residents of Jamaica. This 3 year process took us 5 long years to complete. It wasn’t that the requirements were that tough, it was just plain old bureaucracy in action. We were law abiding citizens of Massachusetts where we lived most of our lives. My only “crime” was getting one speeding ticket over 30 years ago. My finances were in order with two pensions, IRA’s, and money in the bank. Our house was paid in full with cash before this process was started. There was nothing in our past which could possibly deny us permanent residency. So then, what was the problem? There were several, as you will see. It started within the first year or so when a submitted document went missing. This was minor and easily replaced. The real slow down occurred when the original investigating clerk neglected to verify the documents in our file. We were unaware of this problem until our third annual visit to immigrations. Once the file became active again, I had to periodically call to check on its progress. During the first three years all our documentation was handed in and approved each time before we left their offices. Around the first of last year we were told that our documents were verified and only a Jamaican police report was now needed. It took several months and repeated calls before the file was sent to Area One Headquarters in Montego Bay for investigation. Months went by but no interview had been done. More calls to immigrations ended in more frustration. They said the file was sent to Montego Bay but couldn’t say who it was sent to. Eventually the clerk traced the file and within a few weeks the local police came for the interview. At that time, we had to produce for them many of the same documents which we had already given to Kingston. Not a problem. When the police left our house they interviewed our neighbors. No problem there either, as we are well liked in the community. We were happy the final stage was over, or so we thought. Another week or so went by when the police came back looking for additional documents. As they were leaving, I asked how long it would be before they sent their report to immigrations in Kingston. They said less than two weeks. It was now the week after Christmas 2006. The wait started again. More calls to immigrations where they said they never received the file back from Area One in Montego Bay. This went on for two more months. Finally I took it upon myself to find out where the file was and why it wasn’t sent to immigrations as stated by the interviewing officers. This took two visits to police headquarters in Montgo Bay before a senior officer tracked down the file. Are you ready for this? The file was sent to immigrations at the end of January 2007! More calls to immigrations. It was finally located in mid September. I had been really concerned that if they didn’t find the file I would have to start the whole process over again. Now that they had the file I was told it had to be reviewed by the department super visor. Once more the wait was on. At this point, we had another problem. Our visas would expire in the middle of September and we were flying to Antigua at the end of September. Ultimately what we wanted to do was to complete the residency process before the expiration time. If the process wasn’t completed, we would have had to pay for another year’s extension. This would mean that once they completed the process after this time, we would have had to go back to Kingston once again and pay for a two year visa on top of the one year we just paid for. The calls to immigrations were more frequent the closer we got to the visa expiration date. The normal procedure is to have an interview for a year’s extension then return the following week to pick up the new visas which are stamped in the passport. Time was getting short. We couldn’t get any commitment from immigrations as to when or if the supervisor was going to review our file. We couldn’t wait any longer. We told the clerk we were coming in on that Wednesday in hopes the supervisor would complete the file by then. When we arrived we found that the file had still not been looked at. The following week, after daily phone calls to the clerk, we returned on a Thursday to find the file was still not complete and the supervisor was in a meeting somewhere else in Kingston. We had to make a decision right there and then. Should we take the visas and accept the one year extension or come back the next day in hopes the supervisor had finished his review? That’s what we had to ponder. With no guarantee the file would be completed the next day, we decided to take the visas and the extension. However, before the visas were updated in our passports, we had changed our minds and gambled on coming back the next day. During that last week, immigrations called us and asked for even more documentations. They did allow us to fax the new documents to them providing we brought the originals with us when we returned. Each time they asked for another document they said that was the last one they needed. But, we still received phone calls from them on our way to Kingston on Friday still looking for more. It was to late for us to return to Montego Bay, secure the new documents, and get to Kingston before they closed. All we could do was pray they would accept what they already had. We found out later that they had contacted our references for the first time that morning, something that should have been done years before. When we arrived at immigrations on Friday afternoon the clerk gave us the good news that we were now permanent residents. The last step in the process was to stamp our passports and put in the two year visa. This took nearly two hours to accomplish! While the delay seemed long, we were happy to finally be permanent residents. There are two conditions we have to adhere to in order to keep our permanent residency status. These two easy to keep conditions are, (1) not to be absent from the country for two consecutive years and, (2) maintain an active visa. The biggest hassle for us wasn’t so much the extra two years it took for the approval but the fact that we had to travel to Kingston twice a year. In the beginning only one trip was necessary as the visas were obtained the same day. That changed a couple of years ago because they had to make checks to see if we were really who we said we were. Traveling to Kingston is not an easy thing to do. It takes 4 – 6 hours each way depending upon traffic and weather conditions. Between Ocho Rios on the north coast and Kingston on the south coast are roads that are narrow, winding, and laden with potholes. Many times traffic is at a standstill because large trucks going in opposite directions often have to inch by each other. After reading this story, if you are still interested in becoming a resident, here are the nine documents you will need to get the ball rolling. The first thing is a valid passport, then records of all your finances, birth certificate, marriage certificate, medical certificate, a police certificate from your local police department, two passport photos, two letters of reference from Jamaican citizens, and a letter stating why you want to live in Jamaica. The main problem for all this unnecessary bureaucracy is, as I see it, a continual turnover of immigration staff. Not once in those five years did we see the same immigrations officer twice. The turnover was so rapid that I spoke with several of these officers but I never met them as they moved on before our next annual visit. One year there was three different officers who either left immigrations or were transferred to other locations such as one of the airports. To sum it all up, it was a long and often frustrating process but well worth the wait. Our next step is citizenship. We are allowed by both Jamaica and the US to hold dual citizenship. This will give us all the rights and privileges as natural born Jamaicans. This includes voting which, like in the US, also makes you available for jury duty. Jury duty is much different here than in the US and will make an interesting story in the future.