Refugees are protected from forcible return to a country in which their life or freedom may be in danger on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
The authorities may not detain or penalize you for entering the country without an entry visa if you claim asylum verbally or in writing to an immigration official upon arriving from a country where your life or freedom may be in danger. The authorities also may not penalize you for overstaying in the country.
However, you must respect the national laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Breaking the law may result in the suspension of your rights as an asylum-seeker or refugee.
Protection and asylum
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any person whose life is in danger in their own country has the right to seek protection and asylum in another country.
As a refugee in Trinidad and Tobago, you have the right to receive information about your asylum application, your rights and your duties in a language you understand.
You have the right to contact UNHCR in Trinidad and Tobago at any point during the process, from the moment of expressing your fear of return to your country of origin.
You have the right to live in an environment free from discrimination, regardless of ethnicity, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion, nationality, economic position, birthplace or any other personal attribute.
The Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago guarantees rights without discrimination on the basis of race, origin, color, religion or sex.
Immigration and criminal justice
Permanent Residency, Naturalisation and Extension of Stay
You can apply for permanent residency in Trinidad and Tobago if you are:
- The spouse of a resident or citizen of Trinidad and Tobago;
- The parent or grandparent of a resident or citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who resides in the country and is willing and able to provide care and maintenance for you;
- Working in Trinidad and Tobago under a work permit for 5 or more continuous years at the time of the application; or
- A former resident or citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who wishes to become a resident again.
The applicant must have legally entered the country and cannot be a member of a prohibited class of entrants within the meaning of the Immigration Act.
Extension of Stay
You can apply for a stamp extension in order to extend your stay in Trinidad and Tobago at the Immigration Division, Richmond Street, Port of Spain. However, Immigration will only extend your visa if you have entered the country legally and have time remaining on your visa. If you present to an Immigration Office without meeting any of those conditions, you are at risk of being detained.
Arrest and detention for Immigration offences
Immigration offences are criminal in nature. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Immigration authorities may detain persons for two (2) main reasons:
- Illegal entry; or
- Overstating your entry visa.
If you are arrested, you are entitled to:
- Legal representation (an Attorney-at-law) in a language you understand;
- Remain silent; and
- Receive communication in a language you understand.
Do not sign documents which you do not understand. You should never plead guilty if you do not understand the charge and the sentence it carries.
If you or a relative or friend are arrested and detained for an immigration related office, contact UNHCR or Living Water Community for a legal counselling.
Detention by Immigration and Special Inquiries
If you are detained by the Immigration Division under a detention order, a Special Inquiry must follow. A Special Inquiry is a hearing conducted by a Special Inquiry Officer to determine whether you should be granted voluntary repatriation or deportation. If you are seeking asylum, you are encouraged to state this at the beginning of the hearing. If you are receptioned (have started your claim) with Living Water Community or registered with UNHCR you are encouraged to present your reception slip or UNHCR card at the beginning of the hearing to the Special Inquiry Officer.
If you are released by the Immigration Division, after being detained, you would be placed on an Order of Supervision. This document is issued by the Immigration Division to non-nationals (including asylum-seekers and refugees) after being processed. The Order of Supervision carries certain conditions such as reporting, having an address of residence and paying a security bond. You must follow the reporting requirements on your Order of Supervision. An Order of Supervision is not guaranteed to be issued. It depends on your individual circumstances.
If the decision has been made for you to be deported and you do not agree, you have a right to appeal the decision. You do not have to sign the deportation order if you wish to remain in the jurisdiction. You have 24 hours to appeal the decision. You can be placed on an Order of Supervision as well while you await the decision of the appeal.
The right to bail
What is bail?
Bail is a conditional, pre-trial release for criminal offences that can occur in either the Magistrates’ Court or High Court.
When is bail granted?
Bail is usually granted to a person once certain conditions are satisfied and upon the assurance that the person will attend their court trial once the date is determined. An important factor considered when considering bail is the ties the person has to the community, for example:
- Immigration status
- Employment status;
- Number of children in the country;
- Number of school age children in the country;
- Number of family members in the country;
- Religious connections; and
- Business interest in the country.
However, though the court may offer to grant bail, the bail conditions must be met in order to access bail. If you do not have surety or proof of address for example as an asylum-seeker or refugee, while bail may be granted you will not be able to access same. You will be remanded into custody until you satisfy the criteria such as making a payment.
Access to Banking Services
Refugees do not currently have the same rights to public and private banking services as nationals and residents of Trinidad and Tobago. Refugees may open a bank account, transfer funds and access other basic banking services, in line with the policies of each banking institution.
You may have access to money transfer services, such as Western Union or Money Gram. If you do encounter a problem, you can request advice and assistance from LWC.
What happens if you want your relatives to visit you in Trinidad and Tobago, but only temporarily?
If you are a refugee that has been recognized by UNHCR, and you wish for your family members to visit temporarily, you should find out if the visitors need a tourist visa to enter Trinidad and Tobago. Your family members must follow the correct procedure as stated by the Trinidad and Tobago consulate.
All persons in Trinidad and Tobago have access to state-provided primary healthcare. Some medicines are available free of cost with a prescription from a doctor in the health centre or hospital. Certain medicines, like insulin, may not be covered.
For secondary or specialized healthcare services you may have to see a private doctor, which can be costly. These include non-emergency surgical procedures and specialized treatments like dialysis and chemotherapy.
You may also have access to basic assistance in shelter, food and medical care from LWC. These services are supplied on a case-by-case basis. Click here for more information on accessing healthcare in Trinidad and Tobago.
Working in Trinidad and Tobago
A foreign national can legally work in Trinidad and Tobago by either obtaining a work permit or being issued a Minister’s Permit with the express condition that the person is allowed to work, or if they are given a work permit exemption. Work permits are only granted if the applicant has skills which are not available in Trinidad and Tobago and are only valid for a specific time period allowing employment for a particular employer. A Work Permit Exemption Order granted under the Venezuelan migrant registration process, allows holders to legally work in Trinidad and Tobago for a maximum period of 1 year for any employer. Persons who were not registered during this period may still apply for a Minister’s Permit to legally work in Trinidad and Tobago.
An employee is entitled to the following:
- TTD 17.50 as a minimum wage (as at 7 May 2020)
- 14 days sick leave per year once continuously employed for at least 6 months
- 14 weeks paid maternity leave once continuously employed for at least 12 months.
If the above rights are not being observed employees are encouraged to first write to their employer detailing their concerns and asking the employer to rectify the issue. If the employer refuses to comply or if the employee prefers to speak to a Labour Inspector, he or she may consult the Labour Inspectorate Unit (LIU) of the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development to file a formal complaint.
Discrimination in the workplace
Discrimination in employment occurs when an employer treats an employee less favourably than another employee because of their race, sex, religion, nationality, age, religion, language, or disability (status).
Protection of Law
The Equal Opportunity Act (2000) prevents certain kinds of discrimination and promotes equal opportunity between persons of different status. An employer must not discriminate against an employee:
- In their terms of conditions of employment;
- In providing access to benefits, services, transfer or training;
- By dismissing them;
- By subjecting them to any other disadvantage; or
- For intending to bring proceedings or give evidence against the employer.
If an employee experiences discrimination at work from their employer, a complaint may be made to the Equal Opportunity Commission by mail or in person.
Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is any unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal behaviour of a sexual nature, which creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment for the recepient.
What can I do if I am a victim of Sexual Harassment?
- Make a claim before The Equal Opportunities Commission. This can be done through their website or a visit to their office located at #55-57 Manic Street, Chaguanas, 500621, Trinidad.
- Make a formal complaint to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service so the case can go to Court for trial.
- Seek counselling at Rape Crisis Society.
Equal Place is a temporary intervention helping asylum-seekers, refugees and other eligible children in need to access accredited education. Starting September 2019, this learning will mainly take place online, with opportunities for in-person support. This intervention is a joint effort offered by UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, Living Water Community, and TTVSOLNET (TTV Solidarity Network).
Equal Place delivers tailor-made learning on two globally recognized platforms: NotesMaster, offered in English, and Dawere, offered in Spanish. These platforms will be provided at no cost to students or their families.
You can enroll your child here.
Freedom of Movement
You have the right to move freely throughout national territory and choose where you want to live, but you must update LWC and the Immigration Division of changes to your address.
A refugee may travel to any country, but cannot travel to their country of origin. Prior permission to leave and reenter Trinidad and Tobago is needed from the Refugee Unit.
Remember, you must inform LWC, the Refugee Unit and UNHCR of any arrangements to travel abroad as well as changes to your address or telephone number.