Caines our only salvation on immigration?
“In Bermuda there is a natural inclination to make everything acrimonious and vile. I do not believe we have to be cantankerous to work through comprehensive immigration reform.”
— Minister of National Security Wayne Caines, January 16, 2019
It is amazing how we as a community refuse to see the blindingly obvious in respect of immigration. The simple fact is we need more people in Bermuda to sustain our economy and to create and provide economic opportunities for Bermudians.
Sadly, the debate about the need for guest workers in Bermuda and the necessity to make it easier for people to live and reside here was taken over by the misinformed, anti-foreigner sentiment stoked by the present government — and in some instances deliberately sabotaged by some closed-minded members of the current Opposition.
To this day, many people remain surprised and desperately disappointed by the behaviour of fellow Bermudians towards non-Bermudians during the Pathways to Status debate and are even more saddened by the present government’s cynical desperation for power having put us between a rock and a hard place.
Sadly, many in the Government appear more interested in vying for power and prestige for the sake of prowess, a poisonous chalice that is killing off population growth, diversity and economic fortune for all.
As a direct result of the Government’s support for the numerous pop-up groups when it was the Opposition — which marched and protested without an apparent care in the world about how the failure to pass much needed immigration legislation might bring long-term disastrous consequences on our economic fortunes — it is now struggling to deal with immigration reform in a tangible way.
The simple fact is that whatever the Government ultimately decides to do about encouraging people to come to Bermuda and remain in Bermuda, it will by necessity have to be very similar to the Pathways to Status Bill.
The Pathways to Status Bill will prove, in time, the only reasonable, sustainable and successful pathway towards enlightenment for a better Bermuda and a prosperous people.
Even the Working Group, which included pop-up group supporters and which was borne out of the regrettable withdrawal of the Pathways to Status Bill, produced an immigration reform report that was eerily similar to the Pathways to Status Bill.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery! In the end, what matters most is that we get Bermuda promptly on a path that bypasses implosion caused by selfishness and closed-mindedness.
The truth is that the behaviour of some in the present government in respect of non-Bermudians is reminiscent of the anti-immigrant stance of Donald Trump.
The chant “Build that wall!” is no different from “Bermuda for Real Bermudians!” (typical dog-whistle politics; more on that another time).
The Government’s 2017 election campaign was smeared with many instances of barely disguised anti-foreigner fearmongering, lies and innuendo.
In fact, it would seem that many of the messages expressed were much like the entire Brexit campaign — and look where Britain is now!
Interestingly, despite all the noise made by the Government about the biggest changes to work-permit policies in 15 years made in 2015, former home affairs minister Walton Brown kept 98 per cent of those policies intact during his short tenure in office.
This, again, is a case of fact being stranger than fiction and an indication of the absolute disrespect the Government has for the electorate when it comes to immigration issues.
It made a lot of noise and manipulated a lot of people, but in the end did almost nothing to fix what it says were the major issues.
Too many of us in Bermuda are ultra-conservative, more interested in protecting what we have rather than actually trying to create economic success for one another.
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that the Minister of National Security, who now has the immigration portfolio, will make the required truly progressive changes to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956.
He has a reputation for being pragmatic — as indicated by the quote at the beginning of this op-ed — and given his service in both the public and private sectors, he may be the only minister in the Government who can do what is required.
Japan is a perfect example of what happens to an economy that has closed immigration policies — and even they are now finally seeing the light and starting to encourage immigration.
Given this, I am sure the minister understands that immigration creates jobs and that current population trends in Bermuda are bringing us to the brink of economic collapse unless something is done now — which compares starkly to the growth and expansion being experienced in places such as Cayman Islands, which has not been dogged by resentment towards guest workers.
The issue for the minister presumably will be convincing his party’s caucus of the way forward — a tall order given that his boss and also the former home affairs minister were prime antagonists in cynically fuelling anti-immigration sentiment under the guise of “comprehensive immigration reform”.
My real fear, however, is after everything that happened in 2016 and the hostile vociferousness that was deployed at the time, and made many long-term residents and their families wonder why they should stay and invest in Bermuda, whatever the minister does, it may be too little, too late.
Pro-immigration does not mean anti-Bermudian. In fact, the opposite is true. I urge the minister to tear down the wall of fear that has been constructed by his own party for the sake of building economic success for all Bermudians.
It will take stronger leadership and swifter, more decisive action to carry our country towards the Path of Enlightenment.
The hallways of the Government reek of the stench of stalemate and it is taking us backwards.
I urge the minister to ventilate the hallways with forward thinking, humility, collaboration, exploration and bravery. Before it becomes too late to save ourselves.
Good luck, minister. You will need it.
• Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government