Letters to the Editor

Chinese student claims immigration discrimination

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Dear Editor:

I am Meng from Hiroshima University. I'm a Chinese citizen and I am currently doing my PhD in Island Tourism Studies in Japan.

I had an extremely unpleasant experience with the Jamaica immigration office when I arrived in Kingston for tourism as well as to attend an academic conference – 'The Island Festival and Music Tourism'.

Since Chinese citizens don't need a visa to Jamaica for tourism purposes within 30 days (http://jamaica-brussels.be/entry-into-jamaica/), and the fact that academic conferences are not business meetings, I usually use a tourism visa. I never had any problem in all the countries I visited for this purpose so far. From the official website of the Jamaica visa information: https://www.congenjamaica-ny.org/visas/requirements-2/, there is no visa that should be used for academic conferences. Academic conferences are surely not business activities! Also, all type of visa fees are US$20 on this website.

On July 8, 2019, when I landed in Kingston, the immigration officer brought me to a place that can only be described as an interrogation room, and kept me there for over two hours. The conversation went like this:

[Around 6:00 pm] Immigration officer (female): “You can't enter Jamaica; you did not come here for tourism purposes. You need a visa.”

Me: “I will have an academic conference as well as travel in the country.”

Officer: “Unless you are planning to go to the beach in the north of the island, you cannot say you came here for tourism purposes.”

The attitude of the officers was extremely unfriendly, and they threatened not to let me enter the country unless I pay US$350 to them as a visa fee. I had no other choice but to pay, if I wanted to be released by them.

I have the receipt of this visa, but it doesn't say what type of visa it is. During the conference I talked to the other international visitors, and none of them had a similar experience.

After the conference I travelled in the country, even though after the traumatic experience in the airport my budget had been dramatically reduced — which means that I couldn't travel as much as I wanted to, which is a negative thing not only for me, but for the tourism industry as well. When I shared the story about the visa fee to some Jamaican people, they couldn't believe that the immigration office could really do this to people. If its only aim on Chinese citizens, I think it's focus is serious racism!

In addition to having proof that I paid US$350 for the visa fee (I have the receipt) I also have witnesses that can testify that I travelled in the country:

The conference organisers:

Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah from West Indies University, Mona: culturedoctor@gmail.com and Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki: papoutsaki@yahoo.co.uk can prove that I'm an island tourism researcher at this conference. We also did a lot of travel together.

My Jamaican taxi driver Terrence Spauldings, can prove that I travelled four days with him in Jamaica.

The ironical thing is that as an island tourism researcher, I travelled 40 hours by air to come to Jamaica to share my experience and knowledge, which can be very valuable to help Jamaica to improve its tourism development practices. What I got instead was this terrible and exploitative experience with the immigration officer. How many other tourists have been treated this way? And do you think that it helps to improve Jamaica's image in the eyes of visitors?

Now, I am asking for an official reply to explain why this happened. If it's really my fault, you should show me your official regulations. If not, I ask you to make sure that a similar event will not happen to any other traveller. If I won't receive any satisfactory feedback from you, I will share my experience with the Global Academic Society, international tourism scholar networks, and with international media. The whole world will know about this.

Best regards

Meng Qu


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