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Rethinking Immigration

News that Government will be reviewing its Immigration policy and will also be taking a fresh look at its policy on land licences is welcome, but long overdue. Care needs to be taken not to predict too much for this review since details are very scarce.

Nonetheless, several areas deserve scrutiny. They include term limits on work permits, the policy on property ownership by non-Bermudians, and, more generally, residency rights for non-Bermudian job creators.

The policy requiring Bermudians married to non-Bermudians to hold a licence, and restricting them from owning more than one property, does not need a review. It just needs to be scrapped. It discriminates against some Bermudians, purely because they fell in love with a foreigner. It has damaged the value of property and thus contributed to the economic downturn.

What has made it worse is the easing of property rules for non-Bermudians in tourism resorts. It now seems to be easier for a non-Bernudian with no local connections to own property in Bermuda than it is for a Bermudian who happens to have a non-Bermudian spouse. In recent years, there has been a general easing of the restrictions on property ownership by non-Bermudians when the property is part of a hotel resort. This has especially been so since the advent of fractional ownership.

Although the idea of attracting visitors to Bermuda for reasonably lengthy stays in their own properties, while using the services of the hotels, has much to recommend it, care has to be taken that the very same Bermuda properties that the spousal laws were designed to protect are not permanently lost.

Still, there is no doubt that in a time of recession, the idea of well-heeled people making Bermuda their regular vacation spot is attractive. The problem is that they may not stay for very long, and in some cases, the units could remain empty for long periods of time. That's why the idea of attracting successful and high net worth individuals to Bermuda as permanent residents has some appeal, especially if they were to invest in the Island and create jobs and new businesses.

Many countries have similar policies for exactly this purpose, including the US and Canada. The risk is that Bermudians would be overwhelmed by the marketing heft and capital that overseas entrepreneurs could bring. That fear is the underpinning for Bermuda's panoply of protectionist policies for everything from tariffs to work permits to business ownership.

Some of these are necessary. Bermuda is too small to enter fully into globalisation. And to do so would result in the eradication of all that makes Bermuda unique. But that does not mean there should not be some movement towards allowing a limited number of people whose presence creates jobs and enterprise to have permanent residence, provided it is carefully monitored and regulated.

This ties in with the thorny issue of term limits. The policy was put in place to prevent a recurrence of the situation that occurred in the late 1990s when there were many people who had lived in Bermuda virtually all their adult lives and had a legitimate claim to some form of residence. But the policy, while achieving that aim, has also caused instability and uncertainty for many and has been a deterrent to businesses forming here or remaining here. As such, it needs to be reviewed.

No review of Immigration is complete without loooking at the protection afforded to Bermudians. There is nothing wrong with a policy that states that where there is a Bermudian qualified for a job, they should get it. Where the policy is abused, the abuser should be held accountable.

But employers need some assurances that qualified means just that and that they should not have employees who are destined to fail foisted on them.

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Published March 25, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 25, 2011 at 9:53 am)

Rethinking Immigration

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