A change in immigration perspective
The rhetoric that passes for political discourse can be extremely tiresome. In a recent op-ed, Michael Scott twice referred to the Michael Fahy/One Bermuda Alliance solution to all woes of “opening the immigration floodgates” — a catchphrase that has been used by the Progressive Labour Party in the past.
Perhaps Mr Scott can elaborate as to his definition of “the floodgates”? Whether you agreed or not with the proposed OBA immigration reform from February 2016, the purpose was not to “open a floodgate”, as there is no floodgate to open.
Although much economic-related discussion recently has centred on the need to increase the working population through immigration reform, there would be no mass influx of foreigners. To immigrate to Bermuda, one must have a work permit. To have a work permit, there must be an available job. Therefore, to increase the working population, there must be job creation.
Bermuda does not accept refugees, or immigrants without a valid work permit, so there is no potential floodgate.
The OBA immigration reform was not about opening an imaginary floodgate. The purpose was to provide a process for granting residency rights to long-term residents. The proposed guidelines to qualify for permanent residency or status were extremely conservative relative to international standards, including timelines of 15 years' residency for a permanent resident's certificate and 20 years for Bermuda status, and the requirement to be a Commonwealth citizen.
At the time of the proposed reform, it was estimated that the maximum number of residents who could potentially qualify for a PRC or Bermuda status was fewer than 700. Hardly a floodgate.
These would be existing residents with a minimum 15-year work history vetted on a regular basis by the Department of Immigration, not an influx of new immigrants who would be, to quote Mr Scott, “pushing unemployed and underemployed Bermudians to the sidelines of our own country”.
The OBA proposal noted that the eligible residents would be “our friends, neighbours and work colleagues”, people who are “part of the community's social fabric”. Does that resonate at all, or is it irrelevant in the context of the ruling Progressive Labour Party's “Bermudians First” platform?
The last policy in place that allowed for a PRC based on period of residency had a cut-off date of July 31, 1989. If you arrived in Bermuda before that date and had a continual residency of 20 years, you could apply for a PRC.
What does that mean today? Effective August 1, it will be possible to have resided in Bermuda for 30 consecutive years and have no residency rights. Thirty years of, among other things, contributing to the Bermuda economy, buying goods and services, paying rent, payroll tax and social insurance contributions, community involvement, and presumably calling Bermuda home.
Perhaps that bears repeating — 30 years of residency and no more rights than someone who has resided in Bermuda for 30 minutes.
I wonder how many Bermudians are aware of that, and how many would consider that to be a fair policy.
I would ask the same question of Michael Scott, Wayne Caines, the minister responsible for immigration, Christopher Famous and their PLP colleagues. And a final question. Who would these gentlemen and their colleagues most like to emulate in terms of principles, values and ethics?
In a present context, perhaps someone such as Barack Obama? Obama, the 44th President of the United States, governed with compassion and believed in diversity and inclusion.
Would Obama support a political platform that discriminates against, and disadvantages, minority groups such as immigrants and the gay community? I think not.
Bermuda would clearly benefit from a shift in perspective from both political parties. It's never too late for positive change.