Though government leaders have predicted that the full reopening of the Virgin Islands’ borders is months away, legislation is in the works that would require inbound passengers to provide detailed information before their arrival.
A recently Gazetted bill — the Advance Passenger Information Act — outlines what information captains of both planes and boats would have to provide when entering the VI. Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley introduced the bill for a first reading during a March 27 House of Assembly session, and he pledged to explain its provisions at the second reading.
The second reading hasn’t come yet, however: The bill wasn’t on the agenda during an emergency meeting of the HOA earlier this month, though it was published in the Gazette on April 9.
The Caribbean Community recommended the bill to create a regional standard for what data captains must provide while navigating the territory, according to the bill’s “objects” section.
“Advance passenger information” is data about crew members, passengers and any other person arriving by air or sea.
The proposed law would enable such information to be shared with law enforcement; security agencies; and national, regional or international intelligence agencies.
Such information collected while screening people entering the territory, however, could only be kept on file for three years.
The bill explains what sort of data can be collected about individuals on board, including but not limited to complete travel itineraries, frequent flyer information, seat numbers, baggage information, ticket payment information and billing addresses, other travel documents, and “general remarks,” particularly for unaccompanied minors’ travel plans.
Commercial and private aircraft would have to provide requested data at least 40 minutes before departing from the last port of call; vessels coming from outside the region would have to do so at least 24 hours before arriving; and regional vessels would have until one hour before arriving.
Captains or masters who fail to provide the correct information would face penalties up to a $10,000 fine and a year’s imprisonment. However, they could only be punished for inaccurate information if it was provided on purpose or because of recklessness.
Vehicles conducting military, law enforcement or official government business may be exempt under the proposed law.
Passengers, crew members and captains also face a $5,000 fine and up to six months’ imprisonment for refusing to answer questions from authorities about the vehicle and people onboard.
These rules wouldn’t apply to vehicles stopping for emergencies, accidents, navigation needs or with previous authorisation to land. Crew members and passengers would be able to disembark with consent from authorities. Getting off a plane or boat wouldn’t count as an offence “where the disembarkment is necessary for reasons of health, safety or the preservation of life,” according to the bill.
Allowing passengers and crew to leave without permission would also be punishable with penalties up to a $10,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
Premier Andrew Fahie outlined plans for the eventual reopening of the territory’s borders during a speech on Friday.
“When the borders do open up, for an initial period, only persons deemed to belong to the territory and persons with resident status will be allowed entry, but with strict restrictions,” Mr. Fahie said.
As he said April 16, these border changes will come in the second phase of reopening the territory, which the premier anticipated would last three months. Mr. Fahie didn’t specify when the three months would begin, though he said “phase one” of the reopening will continue until June 1. The borders, he added, will remain closed until then.
“At that time, such entry will only be allowed at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, subject to a pre-approval of passenger information seven days in advance of travel, among other measures,” he said.
Seaports will remain closed for an undefined amount of time.
The premier said Cabinet would consider the border reopening measures in more detail and make an announcement in the future.
It would be up to the NRLI minister to decide when the proposed act would take effect if it passes the House and receives assent from the governor.