Caines calls for step change’ on immigration
Everyone has to think beyond their own interests for immigration reform to be achieved and embraced, the national security minister has said.
Wayne Caines, who is responsible for delivery of an overhaul of immigration law promised by the Progressive Labour Party when it won power more than two years ago, warned that thinking in silos will not work.
He said that buy-in from Bermudians for any changes that would grant permanent resident rights to more people would come only when Bermudians were convinced that the system would give them a fair chance at full participation in the economy.
Mr Caines added that companies would have to be more committed to the training and development of Bermudians, while Bermudians would need to appreciate the economic value of international business and expect to have to work hard and earn the qualifications needed to take advantage of the modern economy.
The “step change” Mr Caines said was needed was for the social dynamics of immigration to be taken into account, including the impact of historic policy that had disadvantaged black Bermudians.
Mr Caines said he had planned to table amendments to the Immigration and Protection Act 1956 regarding mixed-status families in July, but they were withdrawn. There has been no legislative progress since.
Mr Caines added that the bipartisan immigration committee had met “every single day for weeks” in a bid to make progress.
He said: “I wish I could say that we have all the answers, but we don’t. We have advisers from KPMG, a policy analyst and a permanent secretary and we’re chipping away at the edges.
“We’re struggling on the piece around mixed-status families and creating more PRCs in Bermuda and what that looks like long term.
“When it comes to giving PRC, or giving status, the country is reticent, and I don’t think that should be put in the box of xenophobia.
“People from all aspects of Bermuda are saying with comprehensive immigration reform, ‘I do not want my Bermudian family to be in a worse position because you are allowing more people to get PRCs or status’.
“There is a natural fear of the Bermudian being squeezed out of Bermuda.”
BermudaFirst has proposed that immigration policy should be focused on providing the talent Bermuda needed to sustain the economy and to boost the working population.
Mr Caines heard Philip Butterfield, BermudaFirst’s chairman, outline those views in a speech at the Association of International Companies annual meeting on Monday.
Mr Caines said: “Bermuda has a declining birth rate and an ageing population. The tax base is getting smaller. This is an opportunity to look at how to develop our workforce. We need IB, we need guest workers, but we need Bermudians to take their rightful place.
“We cannot just focus on ‘I don’t want foreigners in Bermuda’. And IB cannot just say, ‘We need more people in Bermuda’.
“We have to work together to resolve it and that is the step change — a holistic view — not just what benefits my company or my family, but what benefits Bermuda and that is what I believe Mr Butterfield was saying.”
Mr Caines said the BermudaFirst recommendations were the result of the views of 90 volunteers, from many different fields, who had produced an “unvarnished, unslanted” proposal.
He added: “The report will not be adopted en masse, but there are some critical pieces that add value and exceedingly so.
“Many of the things recommended are in train. There are some social dynamics in the report and it is my responsibility to juxtapose that into the matrix. That’s my job, I’m a politician, I have a different focus.”
Mr Caines said that most people understood the value of international business to the broader economy.
He added: “When Bermuda Inc works, we all work. We get the fact that over $800 million a year is in our economy because of international business. That is not lost on me or my colleagues.”
Mr Caines said: “I believe international business has to dig deeper for training and development for Bermudians. To some extent, that is counterculture.
“In New York and London, you don’t focus on what is best for that person, you focus on the bottom line. In Bermuda, you also have to look at the culture and how you make the country stronger.
“We can’t say that because IB is the lifeblood of this economy that the working man should capitulate and have no voice in his own land.
“Bermudians understand that IB is important, but a Bermudian feels they are important as well. They cannot continue to peer at opportunities without having the ability to participate fully and openly in the process.”
Mr Caines highlighted the new hotels scheduled to open over the next two years and that it was essential that Bermudians would get the opportunity not just “to hold a tray”, but also to see a career development route to the general manager role.
He dismissed claims that the Government’s desire to give Bermudians a “place of primacy” in immigration policy was protectionist.
Mr Caines said: “I don’t believe protectionist policy will work.” He added that place of primacy meant “all of us must work together to develop talent to make sure Bermudians have the infrastructure they need to thrive in their own country”.
Mr Caines said that compliance was a piece of the puzzle and that immigration inspectors had launched more investigations into people alleged to be working outside the terms of their work permit.
He added: “That is significant, because it means that Bermudians are not being given the opportunity to work in these places. That’s part of immigration reform as well.”
Mr Caines said English language tests for guest workers in customer-facing roles and a moratorium on work permits in some restricted categories were examples of initiatives aimed at helping Bermudians get a fair deal in the job market.
He added: “When people are coming to talk to me in my office, they’re not saying they hate international business, they’re saying, ‘I’m not eating, my son’s not working, how do I get opportunities in this country? So how can I agree, Mr Caines, to you giving all these people PRCs and status when my children are not working?’
“So the whole concept has to focus on fairness and equity.
“When we can tell the story of how people can participate and thrive in the economy, that’s when we can get people to buy in to reform for mixed-status families and that’s the work I have to do.
“Bermudians have to understand that they have to push, work hard, get that qualification, make sacrifices. We’ve got to work harder than we’ve ever worked before if we’re going to be able to do it.”
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