PM: Young West  Africans stranded here beneficial to SVG
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves
Front Page
June 23, 2023
PM: Young West Africans stranded here beneficial to SVG

The hundreds of West Africans who have been stranded in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) since 2017 are beneficial to the country.

And, Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves said the young men and women, most of whom are Nigerians, have been encouraged to regularise their status here, in an effort by the Government to increase this country’s active labour force.

“I don’t have an aversion to persons who are coming to St Vincent and the Grenadines. So long as you come, you have skills, you are not a problem for national security, citizen security and the like. It’s actually a help to the country rather than a hindrance,” the Prime Minister told SEARCHLIGHT in a recent interview.

Although young people in St Vincent and the Grenadines still make up the majority of the population (56%), the country’s birth rate is slowing, while the fastest growing segment of the population is the elderly.

This means that the burden on the active labour force is increasing, because a person who is working has more people dependent on them.

Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT that SVG, like most other Caribbean countries is under populated.

“Over time, you’re having a population problem. The young segment is slowly growing, the elderly segment is slowly reducing, leaving the labour force caught in the middle.”

Between 2001 and 2012, the number of residents under the age of 25 fell by 16 per cent, while there was a 27 per cent increase in persons 65 years or older.

The urgent need to increase the country’s active labour force is why the Government has encouraged hundreds of young West Africans to apply for residency and work permits.

“They came here for refuge and to go to school and we welcomed them. The problem though, which arose, is that the government in Nigeria changed and the financing of medical students overseas altered, so more than half of them found it very difficult to continue their studies. They are here and most of them had no money to go back home. So they remain here in a kind of a twilight zone.

“But what we have done and what I have encouraged is for the immigration not to pick them up and bring cases against them and the like, but to encourage them to apply for work permit and residency so that they can work here and live….These are strong, intelligent young people, men and women,” the Prime Minister said.

“…And of course, these are people who will integrate. Persons from Africa will integrate pretty easy within the majority population in this country, indeed in the entire cosmopolitan population of our country. So I think this is an important policy issue on which an insufficient amount of commentary and discussion has taken place. This is a problem throughout the Caribbean.”

The Prime Minister said the burden being placed on the active workforce is why it is important to transform the economy so that each person can earn a little bit more to take care of those who are dependent on them.

Residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines are presently being counted as part of the 2023 National Housing and Population Census, the first since 2012, which put the nation’s population at 109,000.

Census Day was Thursday, June 15, 2023.

The Prime Minister said he expects the 2023 census to underscore much of what he has been saying, and will afford the government the opportunity to have a better understanding of the critical demographic issues.