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Divided opinions on commercial immigration

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Don Mills

With very few options to boost the economy, Bermuda has missed an opportunity by putting the idea of commercial immigration on hold.

This is the view of Don Mills, chairman and chief executive officer of Canadian company Corporate Research Associates, which is a partner with Total Research Associates in Bermuda.

However, Sir John Swan, the former Premier, welcomed the news by saying that granting full status to high-spending investors would have “riled a few Bermudians”.

Michael Fahy, the Minister of Home Affairs, said last week that the introduction of such allowances had been put on the “back burner” because Bermuda “doesn’t have the appetite at the moment to pursue it”.

Commercial immigration allows individuals to gain certain residential rights and citizenship rights if they invest large sums in the country. The idea was raised during the One Bermuda Alliance’s 2013 Throne Speech as a potential means of creating jobs and stimulating investment in the Island.

Mr Mills, who lives in Canada where commercial immigration contributes to its economy, described Sen Fahy’s announcement as “disappointing to hear”.

He told The Royal Gazette: “There are not a lot of options for Bermuda in terms of growing its economy. It needs more foreign investment and in different sectors. If you can attract economic immigrants who could do work in the IT sector, as an example, you could create another leg of the economy to grow.

“It wouldn’t take a lot of people to make a difference to come into the country and spend a minimum of $5 million each on economic job creation.

“Only 100 families coming in is pretty small, considering 5,000 left the Island since the great recession.

“You are a long way from where the economy was in 2008 and there is a big gap that needs to be made up — you have issues of unemployment — I don’t know what the solutions would be, frankly.

“It is a touchy subject, for sure. Maybe the Government needs time to explain how it would work and how many people would be involved, and that might create a greater sympathy to that as a solution.”

However, Sir John believes the Island can still attract foreign investment through the granting of Permanent Resident’s Certificates with a few extra benefits, but says that granting status too easily is not something that would float in Bermuda.

“That has all sorts of ramifications,” he said. “Our passports allow people to travel to Britain and on to the European Community, and they allow us to go into the United States without any hindrance. It is not as simple as people think it is. It is something that could have some adverse consequences for us if those countries now say, ‘fine, we can’t determine who you are giving this financial status to’.”

Asked what he thought would be a better alternative, Sir John said Bermuda could still offer sweeteners to potential investors.

“We should be prepared to give PRC status and maybe give full status at some later date if they meet a certain criteria, but to just commercialise status, I’m not in favour of it.

“People can come here, they can get PRCs, they can own a property here, they can get removed from the 60:40 rule so that they end up being able to invest money into businesses. The PRCs have restrictions on real estate ownership anyhow, but to go the full status and everything else, it will rile a few Bermudians, I’m afraid.

“Not only do we need people, we need money capital and we need product — legitimate product that the world wants to buy. The only way to do that is to find the people who are prepared to invest their money, bring their products and be able to run a normal business.”

Mr Mills added: “It creates economic opportunity and jobs, in the end. Bermuda has to figure out what would be a reasonable number of people to accommodate for the economic benefits. A small number of people can make a big difference to the economic prosperity of the Island. We are not talking thousands of people, we are talking dozens of people.”

Speaking on the issue of the potential for criminals gaining status, Mr Mills added: “You have to be very careful who you accept and you have to have a really rigorous process of vetting the people who come in and make sure they are legitimate.”

Sir John Swan