Hayward: transit-visa order about security risks
New charter flights from the Dominican Republic were not the reason the government issued an order last week on visa-controlled nationals, according the Minister of Economy and Labour.
He said the order was in part the consequence of direct flights from Heathrow airport, which commenced in 2021, and may have increased security risks.
Jason Hayward, who issued the Bermuda Immigration and Protection (Prohibition of Entry) Order 2023 last Friday, said that when air service to Bermuda from Gatwick changed to Heathrow, it opened the island to travellers from a wider range of countries, including visa-controlled nationals.
The order requires a transit visa for the US, Britain or Canada for travellers from 115 countries, clarifying existing practice, he said.
Mr Hayward said: “Although the change opened a wide and diverse range of flight connections for persons travelling to and from Bermuda, it reduced the vetting and security checks that Bermuda relied upon by allowing visa-controlled nationals to transit to Bermuda without visa restrictions. This, ultimately, created a security risk for Bermuda.
“The change in the airport in the UK did create a risk but there were other scenarios that also created a risk. For example, Bermuda relied upon vetting for the US, Canada and the UK to maintain our vetting for our border policies. However, you now have direct flights from different jurisdictions, which means that the vetting that would have naturally taken place for commercial flights is no longer taking place.”
Mr Hayward was asked if he was referring to new charter flights. One such example would be the flight connecting Bermuda with the Dominican Republic, which was introduced this month by TXKF Direct.
Mr Hayward responded: “No, it is not new charter flights … so you also had private jets that were utilising travelling from certain destinations to Bermuda. That created a risk.
“Then, when we had queries regarding the clarity of who was on the visa-control list. It wasn’t clear to the public. The only way we could make it clear to the public was to publish the list it so that everybody is abundantly clear who falls into those categories.
“Yes, when the airport changed from Gatwick to Heathrow, Heathrow then allowed visa-controlled nationals to transit through Heathrow without a visa. So those persons were not permitted to enter the UK, but they were allowed to transit though the airport, air side, and into Bermuda.”
Mr Hayward said that the order intended to reinforce the intent of a policy introduced in 2014 that ensured that security and vetting take place before an individual arrives in Bermuda by ensuring tourists and residents have ready access to the US, Britain and Canada through commercial air service.
Tourists who are affected by clause 1 of the order must possess travel authorisation in line with clause 3(1), namely that they “may not enter Bermuda unless they have travel authorisation to enter and re-enter Canada, the UK or the US, such travel authorisation being valid for a period of 45 days from the date of intended departure from Bermuda”.
Mr Hayward clarified that work-permit holders who travelled outside Bermuda before the issuance of the order on August 11 and have not yet returned, and possess a valid standard work permit that does not contain a visa condition, will be permitted to re-enter Bermuda without the requirement to comply with clause 3 (1).
Those who will be first-time residents in Bermuda and who possess a valid standard work permit that does not contain a visa condition and was issued before or after August 11, will also be permitted to enter Bermuda without the requirement to comply with clause 3(1).
However, those obtaining a short-term work permit, including for an emergency, whether issued before or after August 11, must comply with clause 3 (1).
Mr Hayward said: “Without question, they must provide proof of travel authorisation. If they do not comply, they will be refused entry.”
Permanent Resident’s Certificate and Resident’s Certificate holders who travelled outside of Bermuda before the order — or after, for those affected by clause 1 of the order — will be permitted to re-enter Bermuda without the requirement to comply with clause 3(1).
“They do not need to provide proof of travel authorisation to enter and re-enter Canada, the UK, or the US upon arrival in Bermuda,” Mr Hayward said.
He added: “These changes directly align with strategic priority three of Bermuda’s immigration reform to strengthen the enforcement of laws and policies.
“As stated in July, the Government sought to review the current compliance framework to determine if there is a need to increase the deterrents set out in our current laws. What has been made abundantly clear in recent weeks is that there was insufficient clarity for the public regarding which nationalities were visa-controlled nationals.
“The published order now clarifies that concern. Visas are not a perfect solution to the problem of border security but they are an essential tool that governments can use to protect their borders and citizens.“
Mr Hayward said that the visa requirements would not come at a cost to the traveller or to the Government.