By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Chief Journalist of the Tribune
From Monday, citizens and residents of the Bahamas will no longer need a travel health visa to return from overseas, Tourism, Investment and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper said yesterday.
He said despite this change, testing requirements will remain in place and visitors with citizenship from other jurisdictions will still need a travel health visa to enter the country.
This decision was welcomed by the Minister of Health, Dr Michael Darville.
He told reporters following a visit to Sandilands Rehabilitation Center that due to “so many complications” with the visa application process, the government decided to remove the Bahamian requirement.
Mr. Cooper said that the revocation of this requirement was a now kept Liberal Progressive Party campaign promise.
The health visa was implemented in November 2020 and was chargeable to be obtained.
“Our administration has promised a review of all contracts associated with the Bahamian travel health visa,” Cooper told members of the House of Assembly yesterday. “I am pleased to report that this review has been completed and is continuing and that renegotiations are underway with respect to all of our partners.
“Additionally, members will recall that the Liberal Progressive Party has never felt that this Bahamian travel health visa should apply to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents who have made the Bahamas their domicile.
“It was both a financial and regulatory burden on Bahamians and we are committed to stopping it. Shortly after taking office, we evaluated the program and eliminated the fees for citizens and residents of the Bahamas and eliminated the visa for inter-island travel altogether.
“The visa was left in place for visitors as well as the participation fee. After evaluating the program, we are pleased to announce that effective Monday, December 13, 2021, Bahamians and residents will no longer be required to obtain a health travel visa to enter their beautiful home.
“The PLP has promised to end the travel health visa for Bahamians and residents that was implemented by the previous administration and that is exactly what we are doing. This administration plans to take its promises to the people of the Bahamas seriously.
“I would like to emphasize further that the testing requirements will remain in place for all travelers.”
The Exuma and Ragged Island MP said there had recently been technical issues with the digital health visa platform, adding that Cable Bahamas, the government data host, has been asked to create the appropriate contingency plan for the future.
“On December 5 and again on December 6, the processing of the Bahamian tourism health visa platform experienced interruptions and delays for a short period each day. This is believed to be due to power outages and other technical issues at Cable Bahamas which serves as the government data host. It was completely unacceptable and regrettable.
“We therefore apologize to the traveling public for this inconvenience. I have asked our providers to put in place the appropriate redundancy so that this does not happen again.
The minister said that while the testing protocols were being reviewed by the health ministry, tourism officials were consulted to ensure a balanced approach that protects citizens and industry.
He went on to point out that the health visa was a useful tool for information gathering and marketing.
“We stress that the Health Travel Visa will remain in place for tourists and visitors – overseas travelers who are not Bahamians or residents of the Bahamas – for the foreseeable future.
“We believe this provides a level of protection for the health and safety of everyone in the Bahamas by verifying the authenticity of documents by the Travel Health Visa program well in advance of travel.
“The visa has allowed us to gather key data for analysis and marketing, as well as the means to better communicate events that may impact travel.
“We further anticipate that the manual immigration disembarkation card will be removed in due course. We are confident that once this process is also digitized, it will provide additional convenience to our foreign tourists and business travelers, ”said Mr. Cooper.