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Public ‘in the dark’ on immigration reform

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Walton Brown, the former Minister of Home Affairs (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The public have been kept in the dark about government plans for immigration reform, it was claimed yesterday.

A spokeswoman for pressure group Supporting Fair Immigration Reform said the lack of progress was a broken promise by the Government.

She added: “It has now been 12 months since the Consultative Immigration Reform Working Group submitted their report to the previous minister of immigration.”

The spokeswoman said that Walton Brown, the former home affairs minister, who had responsibility for immigration, had promised legislation would be passed by February.

But she said: “Since February, we have constantly questioned the ministry on progress since no meetings or interim reports have been released.

“The failure to communicate anything leaves us to assume that no milestones have been reached.

“We were advised in July that the committee was in the final stages of producing recommendations to be included in their document to be reviewed by Cabinet.

“Nothing further has been released to the public about immigration reform besides yet another promise of more information down the road.”

The spokeswoman said that population growth was essential to the future of the island.

She added: “With recent headlines concerning a declining birthrate, shrinking working population, and greater demand to be placed by seniors on pension funds, the need to grow our population is clear.

“It is in the interests of all Bermudians to have more people paying into our seniors’ social safety net and to ensure that future generations are protected.”

Wayne Caines, the national security minister, took over responsibility for immigration from the home affairs ministry last week in a Cabinet shake-up.

The spokeswoman said that Mr Caines had “a big role to fill” and that the public had “no knowledge about the current state of immigration reform”.

She added that a simple solution would be to make it easier to obtain Bermudian status for long-term residents, “especially those that were born here or who have known no other home”.

She explained: “These are people who have already demonstrated a commitment to Bermuda.

“They are already here and have contributed to our society. Many of these people also have immediate Bermudian family members and have grown up as a Bermudian.”

Mr Caines said in a statement today: “It was the intention of this government to deliver legislation in February, however as a result of ongoing critical analysis by the Bi-Partisan Immigration Working Group, it was advised this be postponed to ensure delivery of comprehensive legislation that fully encompasses Bermuda’s needs.

“As the minister now responsible for immigration, moving this legislation forward is a priority for me. I will continue the good work of Mr Brown and put forward sound legislation that is in the best interest of all Bermuda.”

Sylvan Richards, shadow home affairs minister, backed the group.

He said: “It is clear that this issue is one of the business community’s main concerns and the extended delay in announcing any meaningful reform to immigration is only adding to the economic challenges this Government is facing.

“Additionally, it is unacceptable that so many local families are being left in limbo regarding their immigration status, and they deserve better.”

Mr Richards added: “I am also concerned that moving the immigration department to the Ministry of National Security, which already encompasses a very large portfolio, will only add to the delay.”

Mr Brown said last month that the Government was still working on comprehensive immigration reform.

He added: “We have come to a position on a number of key issues involving mixed-status families and we will be unveiling that in due course, in the next few weeks.”

Mr Brown said in July that he hoped legislation would be tabled by this month.

Mr Caines said in a statement last night he had met with a range of industry stakeholders and immigration officials after taking on the responsibility for immigration.

He said: “I made it clear in this meeting that my office is always open and available to meet with them to discuss any concerns they may have regarding any application process.”

Mr Caines added: “The key point I spoke of is maintaining the delicate balance of ensuring transparency, fairness and a seamless process for expatriate workers while ensuring Bermudians are given the opportunity to grow and develop in local and international business.

“Bermuda will be a place where everyone has equal access to opportunity thus ensuring a co-operative relationship between businesses and Bermudians.”

Update: This story was amended to add a comment provided by immigration minister Wayne Caines

Minister of National Security Wayne Caines, who now has responsibility for immigration after the Cabinet reshuffle last week (File photograph by Akil Simmons)