I’m a Bermudian ... get me out of here!
Watching the sorry plight yesterday of a Bermudian in England being kicked off a flight to Los Angeles re-emphasised the urgency that is required to get our passport affairs in order with the British Government.
MacInnis Looby, a former champion cyclist, has been living in England for close to 20 years and has travelled through the United States on countless occasions before and since emigrating. But yesterday, on a bank holiday no less, he had the rug pulled from under him by a form of bureaucracy that should leave many red-faced.
A normally mild-mannered man was turned temporarily into a foul-mouthed ranter who was totally at odds with the treatment he received from British Airways officials at Heathrow. By the time calm had been restored, he had to accept that his one-month training stint in California would not go ahead as planned.
So furious was the Bermudian that he took to Facebook Live to air his frustrations, some of which included exchanges with BA officials. That video since has been taken down but enough was seen for opinions to be formed that Looby was hard done by and deserving of sympathy.
Bermuda’s special long-time relationship with the US has allowed freedom of movement and, my, have we stuck out our chests when appearing at immigration desks with the proclamation that “we are from Bermuda and do not need a visa”.
Then 9/11 happened. After that came 7/7. And then a host of other atrocities on the British mainland and in continental Europe that were linked to terrorist groups.
That previously ready acceptance of Bermudians has turned to scepticism, and a good number — including from this parish — have had their righteous indignation thrown back in their faces when told that they have to make alternative arrangements. Often with very expensive ramifications.
The lure of the British passport is such that many jumped at the chance to ditch or forego the “lesser” Bermuda passport, with the gateway to Europe without the need for a visa the greatest attraction. The 2002 White Paper had already secured the right for locals to reside and seek employment in Britain without requiring a work permit.
But the British passport, especially if secured in Britain for those Bermudians living there, is missing a critical element that draws red flags from Homeland Security types and airline staff. And no one is the wiser.
The missing words “Bermuda citizen” or “Bermudian” have resulted in several thousands extra spent on rebooked flights and related costs since the Americans adopted in January 2009 the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation — or ESTA — as part of its Visa Waiver Programme.
The British signed up to this programme and took some time to get to grips with it; then last year after the Paris terror attacks, the Americans made it more difficult for Britain’s dual nationality passport holders by threatening to exclude them from the programme.
Bermuda, a British colony camped on America’s doorstep, presents a conundrum anytime immigration rules change in the US.
And it is of little surprise. The most the average modern-day Briton knows about Bermuda is the specious claim that we are a tax haven. Challenging that for popularity are tales/queries of the Bermuda Triangle, Shaun Goater, and our status as the home of Dwayne Leverock, the latter of which is unfortunately trumpeted largely as a source of mirth rather than for his ability as a cricketer.
So imagine the difficulties faced by the many who have been in the same position as Looby yesterday, when you are absolutely helpless and those entrusted with looking out for your interests are equally clueless.
You do not require a visa to enter the US but, at the same time, are ineligible to apply for an ESTA. What to do.
Walton Brown, the new Minister of Home Affairs, touched on the situation last week — albeit for Bermuda passports, not British.
“The British are being obstinate and have taken away our ability to produce our own passports,” he said. “This, in turn, has created a complication with the coding of these passports, which have been given GBR rather than BMU.
“This has created a challenge for Bermudians with a Bermuda passport trying to enter the US from outside Bermuda. Some have been told they are required to have the ESTA waiver.
“However, Bermudian status holders do not require an ESTA; so it is technically illegal for Bermuda status holders to even apply for an ESTA.”
He is absolutely correct that Bermudians cannot apply for an ESTA but likewise they are precluded from applying for a visa, even with a British passport.
Which, until we re-establish some form of control over our own passport — and, in the case of the British version, get the necessary inscription included — leaves too many Bermudians up the creek without a paddle and kills the joy of travel.
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