THE REMIGRANT SCHEME IS BEING ‘REFINED’- MINISTER HARMON By ROYDEN JAMES
Guyana’s Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who was at the time Acting Foreign Affairs Minister when the Guyana Inc. Magazine caught up with him, said that the Government of Guyana is currently working to ‘refine’ the remigrant scheme. “What we are currently doing is basically refining the re-migration scheme, but while we are working to get that done, there is still the old scheme in place. There might be questions as to whether that scheme is working as it should, but that is what is in place and that is what we are working with until better can be done,” the Minister said. The Minister noted that the present scheme allows for certain concessions to be given to persons who have remigrated. He noted that the person who usually gives the green light for those concessions is Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs. And in Mr. Greenidge’s absence, he will do the honours. The Minister also told the Guyana Inc. Magazine that the Foreign Ministry, and by extension the Government, is looking to have a diaspora re-migration policy. That policy, the Minister explained, will give clear guidelines to persons interested in returning to Guyana to settle. Mr. Harmon said that currently the
Government is getting some assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) along with some other relevant agencies to develop the policy. The Minister said too that already, Government officials have met with persons in the diaspora on the matter. “So far we have held two consultations. For those consultations, we had brought back ten leading figures from the diaspora to come and do an actual sampling of the arrangements that are in place for this remigration arrangement, so it is something that is quite active,” the Minister pointed out. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the determining and granting of the remigration status, the Guyana Revenue Authority administers the tax exemption, he reminded. It should be noted that the approval from the Minister of Foreign Affairs signifies that the applicant qualifies for re-migrant status and consequently duty free concessions. However, the level of duty free concessions is determined by the Guyana Revenue Authority following the examination of the documents submitted and an interview with the re-migrant. Currently, a Guyanese citizen who is eighteen years and above and has been residing legally overseas for a minimum of five consecutive
years and wants to return home can be considered for remigration status. Also, a Guyanese Student/Graduate who has attended/is attending a training institution and residing overseas for a minimum of four years can be considered for re-migrant status. But over the years, persons reaching those criteria have been complaining of getting the royal run around to be granted a re-migrant status. “Well I said, the system we have now, we are working on it. I am not saying it is a perfect system. It is one which we inherited, but overtime we will get it fixed, and those eligible for re-migrant status can rest assured that it will become a smooth process. You have my word on that,” Mr. Harmon guaranteed. The Minister went on to say that in some cases, persons do not follow the rules which applies to the granting of re-migrant status, and this too may cause their application to either be placed on the back burner, or not be considered at all. “Applications must be submitted within the first six (6) months of reassuming residence in Guyana. Some persons would apply this week and, before you know it, they want to return home next week, and when you don’t grant them the status, you hear all kinds of things. and I think although we have some challenges with the system, once the process is being followed, persons would be considered. Applications submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be processed within twenty one (21) working days, provided that all necessary information is submitted,” he said. The Minister recalled that in 2016, the Coalition Administration took steps to clog certain holes that have been identified in the Re-migrant Scheme system. The Customs Amendment Bill 2016 was passed in the House, paving the way for a new slew of regulations to be implemented. In presenting the Bill, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, had stated that indeed the Scheme started off well, but lately found itself in some trouble. The Guyana Inc. Magazine also reached out to a Senior Officer of the Guyana Revenue Authority, who said that some persons also seem to want to abuse the re-migrant scheme. “I can tell you for sure that the agency is aware that a large number of re-migrants, having returned to Guyana from their sojourn overseas, are not keeping for their use the assets that are presumably their property acquired while living abroad. This, we believe, is highly irregular and will in no form or shape be condoned by the agency. The agency’s letter is very clear in that it indicates that the concession is granted for the specific use by re-migrants and should not be transferred, leased or sold for a period of 3 years after one’s return to take up their residence in Guyana as a bona fide re-migrant,” the officer said. The officer went on to say that many re-migrants, when found not to be in possession of their vehicles for example, are using many used and jaded excuses including, lending their assets to their close relatives, among others. The GRA views this as a violation of the condition under which the re-migrants are granted their concessions and will take all necessary action to enforce the
penalty clause under which violation of the concessions occurs. Where the re-migrants are unwilling or unable to pay the pro rata taxes, or in some cases the entire amount due, recourse will be taken to forfeit such assets. Both the GRA official and Minister Harmon have urged persons contemplating use of the re-migrant scheme to be cognizant of the relevant laws, since all will be done to protect the integrity of the scheme. “Persons who are thinking about utilizing the schemes should be conscious of the laws, including anti-money laundering legislation, regulations, international agreements and policies governing same as there are serious consequences once found guilty of violating the laws pertaining to such offences.” Mr. Harmon said. Further, it is even more essential to note that in determining genuine remigrants, the post audit activity carried out by the Guyana Revenue Authority is not only to validate the invoices and title used in the transaction, which are often times highly tampered, but to request of the relevant tax authorities which GRA has treaties with, to disclose relevant tax information. This includes the recent agreement signed on by the Government to implement the Foreign
Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) as it relates to United States residents. The re-migrant scheme, in its current form, boast exemptions on a reasonable quantity of personal effects, reasonable quantity of household effects, including domestic and electrical appliances, limited amount of tools of trade, one motor vehicle, provided that the motor vehicle is not older than eight years from the date of manufacture to the date of importation, one motor cycle and one leisure boat that are owned by the re-migrant at least six months before the application for re-migrant status. The conditions that must be satisfied ranges from; the re-migrant must reside in Guyana for three (3) years cumulatively in the case of a used vehicle, or five years cumulatively in the case of a new vehicle, failing which exemptions granted become immediately payable in accordance with the Customs Act. The re-migrant must reside at least 183 days for each year until the three year or five year period has expired and during the three or five year periods, the remigrant cannot transfer, lease, sell, gift or otherwise assign or dispose of the motor vehicle in respect of which the exemption is granted.