The Guyana Government yesterday reiterated that 50 members of the United States Mormon religious organization, who overstayed their visitors’ permits and whose work permits have expired, have to leave the country within a month.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, stressed that the Mormons were asked to leave because they broke the law.
“…if the competent authority advises you, an intended visitor, or you a visitor whose permit for stay in Guyana has expired and is not being extended or renewed then, like everywhere in the world you subscribe to the law and you leave. This is the norm…that is the issue”, Luncheon declared.
The Home Affairs Ministry Wednesday denied claims that they were being expelled because they were involved in espionage and said the church has agreed to replace them with other missionaries.
The Mormons were detained at Police headquarters in Georgetown Wednesday and were released after church representatives met President Bharrat Jagdeo on the issue.
The ministry said the church’s High Representatives here agreed that the 50 will leave voluntarily within a month
The ministry said that after considering all the circumstances of this matter, and committed to finding a workable solution, a meeting was convened at the Office of the President at the request of President Jagdeo.
At the meeting were Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee and the two High Representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Guyana.
The ministry said the church leaders were informed that while Guyana is a free, open and tolerant society, the laws of the land must be respected by all.
They were also assured that there is no intention to deport the 50 missionaries, it said.
“However, in keeping with the laws of Guyana those 50 persons whose work permits and extension of stay have expired will leave the country voluntarily within one month.
“Replacement missionaries associated with the church will be allowed to enter the jurisdiction and to conduct their activities provided they are granted work permits in advance of their arrival”, the ministry said.
At his weekly post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday, Luncheon said the convention is “once you are advised that the stay is no longer being entertained, that visitor leave…that’s the issue.”
He said when this does not happen, there are problems with the “undocumented…because you would have exhausted the period permitted for your stay.”
The Home Affairs Ministry said claims that the church members were asked to leave the country because of espionage activities were “false and unfounded”.
It said the 50 were asked to leave because they had overstayed their approved time in the country and efforts were being made to locate an additional 13 missionaries whose whereabouts are unknown.
The 50, it said, had overstayed their time in Guyana and did not have valid work permits since November 2004, April 2005, April 2007, January 2008 and March 2009.
According to the ministry, the church in October 2007 requested work permits and extension of stay for 10 American nationals to be attached to it as missionaries and this was denied.
It made a new application in February 2008 requesting work permits and extension of stay for an additional 22 American missionaries to be attached to the church and that to process the application, the church was asked to submit a list of all the foreign nationals attached to the organization and their locations.
The list was submitted in February 2008 indicating that there were 54 missionaries with the church here but the ministry said it found that these included those persons who were previously denied work permits and extensions of stay as well as those for whom the ministry had no records.
It added that during the processing of the application for the 54 missionaries, the church again applied for work permits and extension of stay for an additional 69 American missionaries to be attached to the organization. Included in the list of 69 were eight from the list of 54.
According to the ministry, they were given slips acknowledging receipt of their applications.
The church was informed in writing of the findings of the ministry and was invited to an interview in September 2008, it reported.
It said that Mr. Wayne D. Barrow, the Georgetown District President of the church reported to the ministry with his lawyer Mr. Nigel Hughes, and the matter was discussed with the then Head of the Immigration Support Services.
In June this year, the church was again asked to provide a list of all the foreign nationals attached to the organization, their location and copies of their passports.
“On June 10, 2009, the church submitted a list indicating that it has 66 persons attached to the organization. The letter also requested work permits and extension of stay for the 66 persons.”
The ministry said that of the 60 missionaries, the records showed that 50 had overstayed, the whereabouts of 13 were unclear and three had valid work permits.
It said that the head of the organization resident in Guyana was invited by the Permanent Secretary for a hearing and Mr. Sanjay Y. Pooran, Counsellor within the organization, reported to the ministry and the matter was again discussed.