Scores of nationals packed St. Gabriel’s Church Annex on Saturday, Nov. 4 to seek help with their National Insurance Scheme, (NIS) – Social Security benefits, that are caught up in a backlog at the country’s Georgetown office.
The outreach that started in Brooklyn and continued in Schenectady and Queens over the next two days, to address issues pertaining to benefits after attaining the age of 60, was a promise made by President Irfaan Ali, during a town hall, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last September.
Rosalinda Rasul, head of the Diaspora Unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and General Manager of NIS, Holly Greives, assisted by staff of the Guyana Consulate NY, processed documents of hundreds of expats.
Rasul, who met persons arriving outside of the building to speed up the process, told Caribbean Life that the outreach from 9:00am – 5:00pm, was planned to facilitate retirees, because the unit has been in contact with “all of our diplomatic missions, the diaspora or with groups so we were able to help with the coordination of logistics and the distribution of notices so we could reach many people with issues of their social security.”
She said this was an opportunity to interface with the diaspora to assist in expediting the process. Some persons that had minor issues, were helped immediately outside of the Annex.
“I want to encourage Guyanese to use the online platforms available to them, and thank them for their patience, and to let them know that the government of Guyana and all of us value them for their contributions over the years. I know that sometimes interfacing with certain agencies may not be the easiest thing to do but we’re here to give them resolution. We’ve heard the president make a commitment that these things are going to be addressed within a certain timeline which is before Dec. 31 of this year.”
“This means we’re going to clear off all the backlog, and all the challenges they have. It’s a learning experience because we’ve also documented what are some of the key challenges that they are facing when it comes to dealing with their Social Security,” she said adding.
“It will give us an opportunity to go back and device a way how we can improve this system, communication submission of forms or just simple things and how best to make that service easier for them, explained Rasul.
Consul General to New York, Michael Brotherson praised the effort, noting that New York has the largest diaspora, and recall that President Irfaan Ali fulfilled his promise to send a team to the state, and applauded the work of the consulate whose role it is to facilitate such an outreach.
At the time CG Brotherson spoke to this publication, he said the process was going well and documents of over fifty persons were completed, noting that, despite the overwhelming crowd, the exercise would accommodate everyone, and their issues would be resolved.
“Because of the government’s efforts to modernize the consulate, persons can apply via our online portal as well as make an appointment online for an interview,” said CG Brotherson, adding that the Consulate office has relocated to 228 E 45th Street, 4th Floor, in Manhattan, in a space that is more accommodating.
“Again, thanks to my principles in Georgetown, and thanks to President Ali for his vision and ensuring that an exercise of this magnitude is taking place, he said and confirmed the many technological ways persons can have their documents processed. Like via the WhatsApp platform, by calling NIS in Guyana (592-623-2806), New York (212-947-5110) website; www.guyanaconsulatenewyork.org.
Fazal Joe Yussuff, advisor on Investment & Diaspora Affairs, Guyana Consulate, recalled that the biggest concerns addressed by Guyanese during President Ali’s recent town hall meeting were NIS benefits and passports.
“The objective is to make sure that we take care of everyone that shows up here today we’re not leaving until everyone is seen, and to make sure that any issues that any of the seniors are having with their NIS that we can resolved, to make them happy and satisfied and more importantly to make sure that they get what they’re entitled to,” said Yussuff.
“They work hard in their lives to get this benefit so why should we hold it back, and the president commitment has come to fruition here today,” said Yussuff, who promised that this outreach was the beginning of many more programs to engage the Diaspora.
He said the seniors expressed frustration that they had gone to Guyana and telephoned without getting a response.
“It is not right, we want to make sure we’re here to serve the people in the diaspora and do the right thing for them, and most importantly, to make sure that they get what they deserve.”
“This is just the beginning,” he said, indicating that the team will be traveling to other Diaspora communities including New Jersey, Canada, Maryland, and Washington DC.
Immigration lawyer, Melnia Cordis praised the outreach saying it has provided a much-needed service for pensioners and seniors of the diaspora. She accompanied her mother to assist with the processing of an application for survivor’s claim, and to get additional information her parent needed about NIS contributions made over the years.
She added that she was happy that the Consulate was also providing the service and that the government was listening to the needs of the diaspora. Cordis is a member of the President’s College Alumni Association, New York.