Immigration reform: where are we now?
In January last year, the Government started accepting applications for permanent resident’s certificates based on 20 years’ residency. As a whole year has now passed, it is a good time to reflect on how this has gone, and where this leaves Bermuda in terms of immigration reform. The opinions I give are based on speaking to many families over the past 12 months while guiding them through their immigration options.
An overriding concern is that of the length of time it takes to process applications. When the PRC comes with a price tag of $10,000, it is not unreasonable to expect that applications will be dealt with in a timely manner. The minister has acknowledged delays at the Department of Immigration. Although PRC applications have been processed, there are still people waiting for decisions who applied in the early part of 2021.
As I predicted when the law came into effect, there are certainly some people, especially blue-collar applicants, who reluctantly conclude that the price tag is unaffordable. I am aware of some young people who were unable to afford the $10,000, and in some cases have left Bermuda as a result.
There are other young people who find that the 20-year rule is just too inflexible for them.
I will give an example, which is typical. Imagine a family who moved to Bermuda 17 years ago, when a child of the family was 4 years old. The child is now 21 years old, has no memories of life before Bermuda, and has just finished university. The child would love to be able to come back to Bermuda with their qualifications and start working. However, no one in that family can apply for PRC for another three years, and the child will be ineligible for a work permit, as it is not usually possible for a trainee to get a work permit. Their route to a PRC is that they have to wait for their parents to apply after 20 years’ residency, wait perhaps a year for their parents to get PRC, then they make their own application, and wait another year for their own decision. Effectively, then, the children in this situation have to wait until the family have been in Bermuda for more like 22 years, not 20, before they can actually obtain PRC.
Inevitably, these children end up settling somewhere else, as they cannot put their life on hold in their early twenties, and it is anyone’s guess as to whether the stars will eventually align for them to return to Bermuda at some point in the future. The parents start to get disillusioned with Bermuda, too — they may figure that if they can’t have their family together in Bermuda, then they may as well return to their country of origin.
In my view, if the PRC scheme were intended to provide a meaningful way for long-term residents to be able to settle and integrate, it would need to become more flexible. The following are what ought to be considered to make it more workable:
• There should be consideration of reducing the 20-year waiting period for children who were born in Bermuda or arrived at a young age
• There should be some consideration for those on lower incomes in terms of the application fees
• Processing times should be addressed so that it takes only a couple of months or so, rather than the best part of a year
• There should be some consideration of a route to Bermudian status for PRC holders
We now have many PRC families with three generations here — grandparents, working parents and schoolchildren. There are all sorts of reasons why it is not good to have a sizeable proportion of the population who were born in Bermuda but are treated as second, third or fourth class citizens.
• Peter Sanderson is a barrister and attorney who has advised hundreds of families on immigration and nationality law. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org