The first Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Heads of Immigration Meeting (HOIM) was successfully convened in Apia, Samoa, Tuesday to discuss the MSG Business Travel Card (BTC) proposition and how it will be developed and implemented.

Hosted within the margins of the Pacific Immigration Development Community (PIDC) meetings, the aim of the talks was to introduce an easy entry business visa product to facilitate travels of bona-fide MSG entrepreneurs engaged in business activities within the MSG countries.

The MSG BTC will also cater for the needs of Government Officials whose work requires them to travel frequently within the MSG sub-region, including Executives of International Organisations that have projects in MSG countries.

While officially opening the meeting via zoom, Director General of the MSG Secretariat, Leonard Louma, acknowledged the Head of the PIC Secretariat, Akuila Ratu, for agreeing to allow for the convening of this MSG inaugural meeting.

“MSG Leaders have made it very clear that in their desire to see greater economic and trade integration amongst the MSG countries, they would want us to facilitate easier travel for our business people, our officials whose work requires them to travel regularly around our countries, as well as those International Organisations whose officials and staff need to visit our countries on a regular basis because of projects that they fund and run in our countries.

“It is basically for this reason that the Secretariat has considered it necessary to request for the convening of the meeting of MSG Heads of Immigration. It is my hope that you will help provide the Secretariat with the appropriate guidance required to develop a fit-for-purpose easy business entry visa product that could be adopted by the MSG countries.

DG Louma welcomed any specific views on the role that the Secretariat can play, not only in the development of the concept, but in the operation and management of the MSG BTC, once it comes to fruition.

He also expressed appreciation to the Papua New Guinea Immigration & Citizenship Authority for preparing a paper on the various policy settings that would need to be considered for the MSG BTC.

DG Louma stated that while there are ongoing conversations at the Trade and Economic Officials Meeting (TEOM) for a broader Melanesian Travel Card to cater for the MSG Labour Mobility and MSG SMS needs under the Melanesian Free Trade Agreement, those discussions will continue.

“In the meantime, and to get some traction on the MSG Leaders wish to see facilitation of cross border investment, greater commercial activities and more enhanced operations of existing business in our countries, I would encourage you to focus on developing a hybrid product, similar to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Card, that fits the business environment in MSG,” he added.

Furthermore, he confirmed that given the exercise of developing the MSG BTC will require more exchanges between the Immigration Heads, he would propose to the MSG Governing Bodies the endorsement of an MSG Heads of Immigration, to be a standing constituent body meeting to be reflected in the annual calendar of events of the MSG.