The immigration challenge
Immigration is an extremely red-hot-button subject that most people will choose not to touch. Recent history records that the subject is so emotive and explosive that the One Bermuda Alliance paid dearly for it at the polls in 2017.
The Progressive Labour Party, while in opposition, stoked the racial emotions of Bermudians so much so that some stormed the Senate in 2015 and even more blocked the House in 2016.
Now that the PLP is in government, it is now left with the challenge of how to handle it, with the minister promising Bermudians, again, that he will bring forward legislation this month after missing the original July deadline that he set.
On one side of the coin are those who believe that Bermuda needs to grant status, as our only hope, to re-energise the stagnant economy of Bermuda.
On the other side are those who view any attempt to do this, with a great deal of suspicion of an ulterior motive to alter the electoral demographic and to increase competition for scarce jobs and resources.
The passion and the contradictions of the immigration debate are not unique to our island.
However, unlike other countries, we do not have waves of migrants washing up on our shores or crossing our border. What we do have is the dispute over how to address the “mixed family status” and the “belongers” issue.
When observing the contradictions, we see that the 45th President of the United States was elected on an anti-immigration platform.
He launched his campaign descending an escalator to deliver a vitriolic message against migrants while his immigrant wife with a thick accent was by his side.
Additionally, Britain has committed itself to an anti-immigrant Brexit via referendum, to regain control of its borders from migrants coming from their former colonies.
Meanwhile, Bermuda, which publicises to the world an economy dependent on international business and its highly skilled foreign labour, ousted a government that was intent on providing a pathway to status for our long-term residents and their children.
What has not been done consistently or convincingly by anyone in leadership is to make sense of the immigration debate from the angle of “population sustainability”.
Instead, our immigration debate has devolved into a black versus white and an “us versus them” issue.
Population sustainability has a multidimensional approach with birthrate, death rate, emigration and immigration factors coming into play in that order. These first four dimensions should be used as it relates to maintaining and enhancing our economy, and our way of life.
The statistics show that our population growth rate is 0.4 per cent.
This is one tenth of the highest population growth rates of 4 per cent in other countries. It has been pointed out many times that our population is ageing and our birthrate is low.
It has also been said many times that we need a young and vibrant workforce to bear the weight of supporting an ageing population. However, this should not automatically translate into granting status to more people.
What we do need is an economic plan that successfully provides economic growth. This plan will require producers and labourers to derive the necessary revenue to meet the demands we face now and in the future.
Our politicians are not going to convince enough Bermudians, especially those unemployed or underemployed and facing financial hardship, that we need to grant status to more people to come into our island to work.
The working man doesn’t equate the desire or the need for foreign investment with the need to grant status.
In fact, Bermuda has been granting foreign access to our economy for decades, and even built a world-class financial jurisdiction and successful economic model by doing so. Therefore, to declare now that the granting of status is the only way to improve the economy flies in the face of reason and our economic history.
I’m sure some potential investors may be attracted by a more liberal immigration policy, and some of the investors that are already here may be insisting on it.
However, investors invest because they believe that it is competitively profitable to do so, not because they can live here indefinitely and vote. What has made Bermuda attractive to foreign investment in the past, and will do so in the future, is profitability.
There has not been any convincing arguments made that would compel us to radically change an immigration policy that spawned one of the most successful economies in the world.
Bermudians’ backs will be up against the wall when policymakers rush legislation through and expect buy-in. We learnt this the hard way.
The appropriate starting point is a sustainable population for Bermuda to have a viable future.
No one can argue against that. However, the obvious questions to be asked are, what does sustainability mean and where do foreign workers and investors fit into the equation?
It costs the proverbial arm and a leg to raise a child in Bermuda — even giving birth to one.
However, our leaders have not devised policies to encourage Bermudians to have more children and raise them successfully, while making it affordable to do so.
Our seniors are fleeing to other jurisdictions to spend their pensions and to contribute to other societies, and our leaders have yet to factor this into an immigration policy except to identify them as an increasing burden and to saddle them with increasing taxes.
Our young university graduates are choosing to stay abroad rather than return home, and our leaders have provided no policy assurances for them to do otherwise.
Bermuda continues to have a sizeable and highly skilled foreign workforce because we have failed to produce Bermudians capable of meeting the need. We have productive skilled and unskilled Bermudians who are fleeing to Britain because they are unable to find employment here at home.
We also have an untapped resource of Bermudian entrepreneurs, job-creating energy that we have not exploited or developed while we debate an immigration policy to attract foreign job creators.
Bermuda requires leadership on a sound economic policy with a proven record that breeds confidence in our financial future.
If such a policy creates the demand for outside investors and highly skilled workers after meeting our domestic employment and population-growth needs, Bermudians have proven ourselves to be acceptable to accommodating them.
I will conclude with a few words on the issue of Pathways to Status. There are very compelling reasons for us as a nation to grant status to people born here and who have been living here for 15 to 20 years and more. In many cases, it is simply the right thing to do — and sensible as well.
These are people that have invested in Bermuda and Bermudians.
They also have been integrated into our society socially, culturally and economically.
They are our school friends, work colleagues and community helpers. In some instances, they have never lived anywhere else and have nowhere else to call home.
They add value to our island, and when Bermuda finds the way to accept them as fellow Bermudians, we will be better off for doing so. It was and is to our detriment to do otherwise.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017
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