Column: Pathways To Status Is “Right Thing”

February 11, 2016

[Opinion column written by Junior Minister of Home Affairs Sylvan Richards]

Politicians are often faced with making decisions that may be unpopular, but are the right thing to do.

Governments are elected to lead, and have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the interests of all people, rather than simply doing what might be politically expedient or pandering to special interests.

Such is the case with immigration. It’s an emotive topic. There are strong opinions and ideas that are often at odds.

Bermuda may be another world but we are very much part of the global village and a signatory to certain conventions. By not addressing residency rights and the blanket ban under current legislation, we have fallen afoul of our international legal and human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sylvan Richards 160211

We must make changes or the courts will force change upon us.

Before the General Election in 2012, the OBA promised we would enact comprehensive immigration reform.

And in the November, 2013 Throne Speech we pledged: “In order to conform to human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Government will move forward with amendments to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 to provide pathways to Bermuda status for persons born in Bermuda or persons who have been adopted by Bermudian parents.”

The Pathways for Bermuda Status announced last week will allow any permanent resident who is ordinarily resident in Bermuda for 20 years to apply for Bermudian status. In addition, such a person will need to be a Commonwealth citizen, must be of good conduct and character throughout the period of residency in Bermuda and must not be convicted of offences showing moral turpitude, as has always been the case.

Not all who are eligible will apply. Not all who apply will be granted. And we mustn’t be misled by alarmist claims and half-truths backed up by selective data.

There is no credence to claims that thousands of residents will become Bermudian under this change. Based on the 2010 census data on our working population of individuals who need work permits to work [i.e., no status, not the spouse of a Bermudian and not a PRC], there were 241 in Bermuda for 15-19 years, 270 in the 20+ year range, and 172 who did not wish to say. If we include those who did not report in the 20+ year range, we are talking about 683 individuals at most.

Work permit processing has been cut in half since 2010. Many guest workers and their families have since left Bermuda.

In addition, the Department of Immigration has seen a take-up rate of 50% based on those PRCs who have applied for status following the Chief Justice’s ruling in Carne and Correia. Taken together, this means that the actual number of individuals eligible to apply would be smaller.

This is quite apart from the 1,455 affected by Carne and Correia over whom Government has no control.

These people are already here and are part of our community. They are our co-workers, neighbours, family and friends. They have contributed to our economy, understand our customs and hold jobs that have been available to Bermudians through the work permit process.

There is also no evidence to support claims that all those granted status will vote for one particular party. Bermuda’s democracy is based on a secret ballot – so to make claims about how those eligible for status will vote has no basis in fact.

And those eligible for status are not, as some have claimed, exclusively white. They come from many countries and represent a myriad of ethnicities and, according to the census data, approximately 50% identify themselves as white.

The call for arbitrary quotas harken back to old and unfair immigration policies when status was granted by discretion. The changes proposed are fair and based on a thorough examination of policies from countries around the world. Bermuda is in the minority as one of only a handful of countries that has no path to citizenship and this must be rectified.

The hodgepodge of immigration changes during the last few decades have led us to where we are today. And despite the former Government’s 14 years in power, they failed to enact immigration reforms that benefitted Bermuda and Bermudians – rather, their misguided policies succeeded in driving thousands of productive workers from our shores.

Despite the politically motivated objections of the opposition and special interest groups, it’s clear many in the community agree with changes to immigration law to grant status to long term residents.

The benefits are undeniable. It is no secret that Bermuda faces real demographic challenges in the coming years with a declining birth rate and shrinking Bermudian population.

Granting status to these residents will increase the size of Bermuda’s working population, workers who will pay into our social insurance, pension and health insurance systems that support older, retired Bermudians.

New Bermudians, with their newfound security, could seek to purchase real estate or inject capital into Bermuda companies as directors and shareholders. Assets which will be earmarked to leave Bermuda will be more readily available for investments in the local economy.

These contribute to an economic multiplier effect and feeds back into positive movement in Bermuda balance of payments and increased Government revenue.

Clearly there is much information for the community to digest and discuss. The Government will be communicating more on this topic in the weeks to come and we owe it to ourselves to have an open, honest debate based on facts and the realities we face as a country still reeling from such a prolonged economic recession.

The peddlers of fiction and misinformation will continue to make this a political football to further their own agendas which is unfortunate.At the end of the day, providing pathways to status is the right thing to do.

- Sylvan Richards

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Comments (44)

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  1. sage says:

    All this guy does is stand next to his leader now and again and drop an op-ed once in a while to get a paycheck?

  2. The Truth says:

    “Before the General Election in 2012, the OBA promised we would enact comprehensive immigration reform.”

    This legislation is not comprehensive immigration reform – real truth.

    This legislation is short-sighted…the impact of this law will be truly felt in another 20 to 30 years when the children of that group of “about 683 individuals at most”seek to fortify their residency in Bermuda. That number will continue to balloon every year over until the concept of “native Bermudian” is a “foreign” concept.

    • O'Brien says:

      If those children are born in Bermuda, raised here and decide to commit to our society — then why should they NOT be allowed to stay?

      • The Truth says:

        The same reason stated above – - this legislation will completely change the landscape of the country – period.

        • Lois Frederick says:

          And tell us what form does your comprehensive immigration reform take? Details would help.

          • The Truth says:

            Lois:

            Directing your question to me is wasteful energy – - I am not an elected official thus I am not in a position to move forward with any immigration reform. I have my suggestions which have already been shared with my area MP – I suggest you do the same.

        • j says:

          Granting citizenship to people who have already been here for 20+ years, making up less than 1% of the population (using your figures which are overstated) will “completely change the landscape of the country” ? What on earth are you smoking?

          • The Truth says:

            If you actually read my comment, you would recognize that I included the concept of generational impact – - that’s the issue with the supporters of this reform – you are only looking at NOW – - I am speaking about years down the line. Think of it this way – - we have a leaky pipe – only a few drips are falling…then we decide to increase the water pressure and turn the tap open by a half an inch – - what happens to the drips? They fall at a faster rate, right? Exactly.

    • Unbelievable says:

      The Government can’t enact comprehensive immigration reform like everyone wants to in fell swoop. It actually does need to be in pieces. The Immigration Dept (no diss to those folks) wouldn’t be able to handle broad changes to their remit in that case. Can you imagine day one?

      • The Original Truth says:

        So you are admitting that OBA’s reform is not really comprehensive and in turn are admitting OBA is lying when they say it is comprehensive.

        It does need to be done in pieces but OBA has jumped over key pieces that should be in place for data collection and instead rely on stakeholder hearsay.

        First thing that should be done is implement a payroll tax claim form that must be mandatory for every adult resident to submit. The form’s data would be attached to everyone’s social insurance and collect all information such as employed, unemployed who their employers are and how much income they make from them etc. etc. etc. Basically an income tax form that allows the government realistically look at the islands employment situation. The same as an income tax form there can be benefits for those who prove they are really struggling and investigations and penalties for those who flaunt the system. This data collected can find out which job sectors really have no local fit to work in them and which do. At the moment OBA is going by false information and if ask to prove their claims through true data they would not be able to.

      • GoodIdeaBadIdea says:

        Really no different than the day the PRCs were given access to status. It’s first-in first-out application.

        The only difference is that those without commonwealth citizenship will have to go through the process of naturalization as well. It’s already been stated that those with 20+ years will be given transitional status since they are already here and eligible.

      • Yvonne Johnson says:

        Yes, they actually can have a long term plan. This seems to be the point of those who are saying slow down. This Government is not representing it’s people.

    • ConcernedBermudian says:

      So you would prefer to continue on the path of a declining population unable to support our obligations? This a very good idea, on one hand to clear up many outstanding issues regarding people that have lived here for many years and on the other to help grow our population and economy over the long run. When you consider that over the last 5 years, thousands of residents have left the island and as a consequence Govt. is struggling with reduced revenues, Bermuda cannot be considered over populated at this time. We need more people and this initiative is a way to achieve that, with people that are already here. As we go forward, we are talking about rather modest numbers, not the exaggerated thousands mentioned by some.

      • The Truth says:

        A short sighted solution which will create a huge long term problem.

        • jt says:

          What is the huge problem again?

          • The Truth says:

            The long term effects on the population in this country due to this proposed legislation

      • WTH says:

        and why are people leaving the island in droves??? BECAUSE THE ISLAND DOESN’T LOOK FOR THE BETTER INTEREST OF THE LOCALS! Some people are sick and tired of putting the effort in and never getting recognized or compensated. Some folks (black and white Bermudians) are tired of being laughed at because they have been doing the work while the guy that the company get to oversee/manage him doesn’t have a clue and is getting the hefty paycheck and has no desire to even learn what he’s supposedly managing because he doesn’t have the time to because he’s busy partying while the local has to go out and get a second job! Some long term residents have contributed to this society in a good way, but the way this has gone down is making a lot of us feel shafted yet again by the folks that are supposed to be looking out for us. So when you say modest numbers… Let me start deducting modest numbers from your paycheck here and there and let me start to watch you start asking questions.

      • Yvonne Johnson says:

        A good part of that declining population were Bermudians leaving for the UK, mainly due the global recession (which was not the fault of the former Government, as MP Richards seems to say in the article). What are the plans of the Government for those citizens who may want to come back to the island. If some effort was made by the OBA to address those people and unemployed Bermudians, then maybe the protesters would have an ounce of trust in them. Seems to me that the Government is ignoring their own people in favor of foreign nationals. Granted, both are necessary, but please, why the rush if there are so many unknowns for the future. Slow down and get it right.

      • Yvonne Johnson says:

        No it does not seem like people are saying they prefer to continue on the path of a declining population unable to support obligations. Not at all. I am hearing that the issue is that the plan is incomplete. Let’s hear what’s the whole plan. Represent and serve the citizens you have currently, MP Richards. They sound dissatisfied with your blatant disregard for them.

    • Juice says:

      And whats wrong with Bermudian born children fortifying their residency in the country of their birth? Half of todays “native Bermudians” as you say, have great grand parents who weren’t born Bermudian but put down roots here. My great grandparents from both sides of my family were born in the Caribbean but Bermuda is our familys home now.
      The nonsense that some people spew, I tell you… *rolls eyes*

      • The Truth says:

        Nonsense to you doesn’t negate my statement nor the possible implication.

      • Yvonne Johnson says:

        It seems like no party is against immigration reform for those children. The opposing side seems to be saying to get some things solidified before moving forward. The 2013 Throne Speech discussed solutions for children born in Bermuda and adopted children. And now the issue is with PRC’s. Sounds like a bait and switch to me. MP Richards, you will know when you have it right when the people you were elected to represent and serve feel ‘listened to’, instead of your divisive term ‘peddlers of fiction and misinformation”.

    • Bermyman says:

      There is no such thing as a native Bermudian. Most who harp on about ‘the concept’ have a Bermudian genetic lineage only but a couple generations old. The real issue is that the PLP don’t like white people and they assume there will be more white Bermudians as a result. That is the issue, nothing more, nothing less.

      • The Truth says:

        This is not a white and black thing – - this is a power thing. The concept of having this influx of people to assist the country is just a short termed solution which creates a larger problem – - there is no denying that fact.

        • Yvonne Johnson says:

          It seems to me that both sides recognize and think reform is necessary, but are at odds on how. Since the jobs of both sides are to represent the people, ignoring the input of a large sector of the community is probably not good governance.

    • Accurate says:

      The concept “native Bermudian” is a fictional construct designed to fool the less enlightened. Nobody alive today descended from a “native Bermudian”. Has immigration been manipulated to suit the desires of the ruling class – why yes it has. Welcome to the real world fluffy. The primary desire of the current ruling class is to rescue our great little island nation from the almost certain oblivion it is heading towards. If they are not successful then the argument over – if not the very words “native Bermudian” will disappear from the human lexicon.

      • The Truth says:

        Sounds like a scare tactic if you ask me…”certain oblivion” – really?

    • What is a native Bermudian? says:

      A cahow?

      History reports that Bermuda was founded and settled.

      Inconvenient truth…

      I am not sure that anyone group of human can claim rights to being indigeniously native–or have I missed something here.

      In any event–this issue is about HUMAN RIGHTS–

      Let’s be human about this–the argument taking place is crusted with dust!!!

      • Yvonne Johnson says:

        This is not what the push for Bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform is about. Of course, all Bermuda’s citizens ancestry came from somewhere else. It does not seem that the opposing party denies that.

  3. Vote for Me says:

    A simple test…

    If the intent of the changes to Immigration policy is political neutrality, then OBA should make the effective date of any changes to be after the next General Election.

    On that basis, whatever changes are made will not impact Bermuda’s next General Election.

    • Bermudian says:

      how sure are you that it will impact the General Election? Do you know how the new Status holders will vote?

  4. O'Brien says:

    Some of the people who contribute most to our society were born overseas. They come here, cast their lot with ours and, in time, become one of us. These people have earned the right to be called Bermudian and deserve to be recognized as such. Don’t forget, 20 years is an awful long time. Only those who are really committed to Bermuda are likely to last that long; everyone else will leave long before then.

    Carry on, OBA. You are doing the right thing — which isn’t always the easy thing.

    • Jus' Askin' says:

      “Only those who are really committed to Bermuda are likely to last that long…”

      That statement is false. People have it better in Bermuda and they don’t want to go back to their homeland ;-)

      • Lois Frederick says:

        I know a fair number that have chosen to leave voluntarily. Don’t kid yourself.

  5. jono says:

    Why don’t the OBA “do the right thing” and propose legislation that will legalize same-sex marriage? Why are they afraid to touch such a topic?

  6. Bermudian says:

    Welcome to the New World then! Do you realize that someday, there will be no black or white race? It will be a Brown race across the globe. “Native Bermudian” or not, we will all be equal.

  7. The Original Truth says:

    What job sectors have the 241 permit workers in Bermuda for 15-19 years been employed in Sylvan? Why did their permits get approved for so many years? What about those who have been here for 10-14 years who will keep getting their permits approved until they eventually are eligible how many of them are there?

    So many important questions unanswered by the man who gets put in place when the Minister of Home Affairs wants to tuck his tail and run.

    • hmmm says:

      That would be a question for the PLP surely? 15 years of it would be under them.

  8. ALVIN WILLIAMS says:

    This government has proven over and over again through it’s policies that it cares more for others than it is concern about the interests of Bermudians; but our liberation soon come; we have only one year before we will be able to vote this OBA government into political oblivion.

  9. Ed Case says:

    The pathetic loser party folks who are so desperate to make this into a race issue should pick your battles a bit more carefully.

    If Bermuda gives status to anyone at all, what would be more fair than to give it to those who have been here the longest – many of whom were born here – without prejudice due to skin colour or bank balance;

    And they already live here among you.

    What would be a more reasonable alternative? Please, anyone?

    You PLP are too ignorant for words. Pick a battle where you have a point to make you ignorant fools.

  10. Ed Case says:

    You are embarrassing yourselves, you are too ignorant to vote.

  11. Garfield and Odie says:

    We so called Bermudians are so F***** STUPID. WE all holler b!%@h moan and complain when we can’t get our way traveling. emigrating to greener pastures because we are SO SPECIAL IT SHOULD BE GIFTED to us WITH NO QUESTIONS but we don’t want to return the favor to people that have lived and contributed to ALL of us in some way. Get Stuffed

  12. reality says:

    A Bermudian leaves for the Uk and the next day is entitled to every benefit a UK citizen enjoys without contributing. Why can’t an expat who has contributed be entitled to residency? If this bill is not passed, i will be soliciting my UK MP to begin a petition and once we get 200,000, it can be debated in the house of commons. Topic- Permanent Residency rights in Bermuda to ALL UK Citizens similar to EU policies.

    Ignorance is not always due to a lack of education.

    • Yvonne Johnson says:

      The name calling only detracts from the main issue. EVERYONE agrees that reform is needed. Stay focused.