Govt confirms review of immigration laws is underway
Both Opposition parties are hopeful controversial legislation over expatriates will be relaxed after Government Senate Leader David Burch confirmed a review of immigration laws is underway.
Deputy United Bermuda Party leader Trevor Moniz said the economic crisis could force Government's hand on term limits and licences for home ownership which have angered businesses and Bermudians married to foreigners.
Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Shawn Crockwell said by scrapping the land licence rule Government could give a much-needed boost to the housing market.
During the Senate's Budget debate on his National Security Ministry on Monday, Sen Burch said Government had embarked on a review of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act.
The Minister said Government is also looking at the land holdings issue “to determine if there's a means to stimulate the economy by a review of land licensing”.
Reacting yesterday, Mr Moniz told
The Royal Gazette: “It is clearly good news that the Government is finally taking heed of good sense and reviewing this whole area in view of the very changed economic circumstances which Bermuda faces.
“We are now in a recession and we have got to back off.”
Critics say the business community has been made to feel unwelcome by work permit term limits introduced under the Progressive Labour Party Government.
Mr Moniz said more non-Bermudian jobs could in fact lead to more jobs for Bermudians who have found it difficult to get work during the credit crunch.
He said of term limits: “A lot of people would like to see that revisited in view of the economic circumstances. The view put forward is many of these non-Bermudian jobs create Bermudian jobs. That is what we have got to work towards.
“Some of us have seen it all before. We had the three-month moratorium on foreign landscapers, but that's been tried before. It's worth a go, but at the end of the day you are not going to find Bermudians to fill all those jobs.”
Mr Moniz also repeated his concerns over an amendment to the Immigration and Protection legislation four years ago, which required some Bermudians married to foreigners to get $1,375 licences for their homes.
“I have always stated the licence law went too far,” he said.
Last summer, he tabled a motion urging Parliament to review the law, saying it discriminates against Bermudians who choose to marry non-Bermudians.
Mr Crockwell said: “The BDA is definitely pleased with the news that the Government has decided to reconsider its position on requiring Bermudians with non-Bermudian spouses to apply for a licence when purchasing property in Bermuda.
“We immediately expressed our displeasure when this policy was first announced by the Government as it is clearly inequitable and discriminatory towards a certain class of Bermudians.
“Furthermore, we felt that it would add to the contraction within the property market as in many cases sellers are unable to wait for the buyers to obtain the required licence, which we understand can take up to nine months.
“This policy is contradictory to another Government policy which allows non-Bermudians to purchase property in the resort and fractional condominium market without obtaining a licence.
“The rationale used by the Government to justify this exception is predicated on its belief that it would stimulate the tourism industry.
“Government needs to make up its mind and stop playing politics with people's lives. We urge the Government to see its way clear to rescind the licence requirement and we hope that it will provide a much needed boost to the local property market.”
Shadow Labour Minister Michael Dunkley said: “We support the review and it tells me the Government, after feedback from the community, is having a rethink on the policy they imposed.”
Sen Dunkley said Government's willingness to rethink could be a sign an election is on the way.
“It is clear that there has been a great deal of concern expressed in the community in regards to this land licence policy,” he added.
“My colleagues and I have been approached by many Bermudians expressing their utter frustration at the policy and we understand and share their concerns. In this regard we have continued to lobby the Government for a review of this policy.”
BDA MP Mark Pettingill said: “There are a lot of things that this Government needs to review, some will be as an election ploy and others as a reaction to the problems with the economy that they have directly contributed to as a result of a lack of planning.”
Sen Burch, through his press officer, did not respond when asked how he believes a review of the issue can stimulate the economy.