Cabinet to consider immigration reform plan
Changes to improve the island’s immigration laws could be on the law books by the end of July, the national security minister signalled yesterday.
Wayne Caines said the latest report by the bipartisan Immigration Reform Group was submitted to him last month and had been turned into a memorandum that would soon be considered by the Cabinet.
He added: “After the Cabinet and respective parliamentary stakeholders opine and make recommendations, our immigration reform plans will be set out publicly, which will include, and not be limited to, key recommendations and implementation steps.
“We will then allow the public, including key stakeholders, to share their thoughts and provide feedback.”
“We believe that we will have key elements of our immigration reform debated and passed in the House of Assembly before the end of July 2019.”
Mr Caines, writing in a Facebook post, admitted immigration remained a difficult and emotional issue.
He said: “I know that immigration reform is pivotal to the success of our country. I believe that we must have a balanced approach to immigration reform.
“I am aware of all of the nuances and complexities facing many families living in Bermuda. I meet with families every day. I hear the stories, I hear the pleas.”
Mr Caines added that immigration was “a hot-buttoned topic” and that some had legitimate fears over how immigration law changes would affect island society, while others wanted “a clear and defined road map”.
He said: “I am available to talk and listen to all.”
Mr Caines added: “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.”
Robert Pires, the chief executive of Bermuda Investment Advisory Services and an immigration reform campaigner, commented on Mr Caines’s post that public meetings on immigration had been affected by racial differences.
He said: “People affected by immigration restrictions do not attend because of the vitriol. I was particularly saddened by the antagonism allowed previously by PLP ministers responsible for immigration.
“I particularly object to the element of race played in these meetings as a ‘Trump’ card. There should be no element of race in discussions or the decisions.”
Mr Caines told Mr Pires that race was an “important part” of the discussion but it did not mean that the debate had to be acrimonious.
He said: “I am committed to open dialogue, I will always insist that we treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Sylvan Richards, the shadow home affairs minister, said that a pathway to status was needed to help stem the flow of residents seeking “greener pastures” elsewhere.
He added: “We must then provide a measured liberalisation and streamlining of our immigration policy to encourage job creators currently not operating in Bermuda to consider Bermuda as a domicile of choice. This will facilitate job creation for Bermudians.”
Mr Richards added: “The public consultation should be allowed to occur without the rancour and obstructionist activity that occurred when the prior government attempted to engage the public regarding our attempts to discuss comprehensive immigration reform.
“The various unions and other groups such as the People’s Campaign must commit to allow this discourse to occur so that all voices can be heard.”
The Supporting Fair Immigration Reform Facebook group said on its page: “There is a growing class of people in Bermuda who for all intents and purposes are Bermudian through and through and who know no other home.
“Bermuda continues to be one of the only jurisdictions in the world where no possibility for any form of status exists for people born here or who have lived here for their entire lives. This is a tragedy which puts Bermuda in breach of its international legal obligations.”
A spokesman for the Vasco Da Gama Club, a hub for people of Portuguese descent or nationality, added: “This affects many of our members and individuals within the Portuguese community — directly, or through family and friends.
“What we hear consistently is a concern for the children who are affected — people who were born in Bermuda or who arrived at a very young age.
“Their situation is really concerning and they face potentially life-changing decisions.
The spokesman added: “We hope that a fair and equitable solution can be found for them. We truly believe that this can be done in a way that takes into account the legitimate aspirations of Bermudians.
“It would be very poetic to resolve the issue in the year when Bermuda celebrates 170 years since the arrival of the first Portuguese residents.”
• UPDATE: this article has been amended to make clear that the memorandum based on the Immigration Reform Group report has not yet gone to Cabinet