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MPs clash over immigration reform

Immigration system changes are still a government priority, the national security minister told the House of Assembly.

Wayne Caines disputed the suggestion the Government was “resting on its laurels” and said that a bipartisan committee had been at work on the subject.

However, he said any reform had to benefit Bermudians and ensure opportunities for them.

Mr Caines told MPs during debate on the Reply to the 2019-20 Budget on Friday: “It's basic. We believe that any immigration plan must be fair, must look at the needs of Bermudians, Bermudians who have grown tired of watching everyone else benefit from this lovely island while they sit and watch and have no opportunities.”

He added: “We have a responsibility to make sure this country runs efficiently and Bermudians are not second-class citizens in their own country, and we will not apologise for that.

“Why would we, when everyone else has their own passport and a place they can go and another place they can domicile? Our people only have Bermuda.”

Walton Brown, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the Government's focus was on job creation.

Mr Brown added: “We cannot simply bring people to the island. We can only bring people if there are concrete jobs that can be filled.

“It is a very simplistic view being advanced by the Opposition — just bring in more people.

“We believe that we need to have a co-ordinated approach to this.

“We recognise that we need more people on the island, but more people will come to the island if jobs are created. That's just a fact of life.”

Mr Brown said the Progressive Labour Party would also try to find a solution to the problem of permanent resident's certificate holders and belongers.

However, Scott Pearman, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, insisted that Mr Brown's view that people should be brought in only if there were jobs to fill was flawed.

He said: “Respectfully, that's absolutely wrong.”

Mr Pearman highlighted a new advertising campaign from the Bermuda Business Development Agency that said that for every new job filled by someone from overseas, 1.3 Bermudian jobs were created.

Mr Pearman said: “They don't come in and take Bermudian jobs.”

Mr Pearman added that it was important that Bermuda attracted wealth and job creators.

But he said: “We also need to ensure we retain those who are already here.”

Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, said the Opposition had tried to “rewrite, rehabilitate and resurrect the failed, rejected Pathways to Status agenda”.

He added: “Or as I like to call it — open up the immigration floodgates and hope for the best for Bermudians.”

Mr Simmons said that for the economy to grow the Government had to create an environment where there will be more people on island “but Bermudians benefit too”.

He added: “Not as an afterthought, not as a by-product. That is a key difference.”

Trevor Moniz, of the OBA, said that the Government “weren't willing to do what was necessary”.

Mr Moniz added that the Cayman Islands had “figured it out” and that Bermuda needed to “take a page from their book in terms of immigration”.

He said: “There was a point in time where we had too many people here — we had to try to restrict it.

“Now we have too few people here — and we have too little money in our economy.

“We need people who are going to come here, doing professional jobs, who are going to be spending money.”

Rolfe Commissiong, of the PLP, said that talk of the need to bring more people to Bermuda struck “a very dissident chord in myself and generations of black Bermudians in this country”.

Mr Commissiong highlighted sections of Mr Brown's book, Bermuda and the Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology, 1944-1998, about immigration to Bermuda during the 1960s.

Mr Commissiong asked: “Who did they displace? Who did they marginalise in our society? Our parents and my generation.”

He added: “You want to know why the current statistics we see around racial disparity are the way they are still in Bermuda in 2019? Look no farther than that period in our history.”

Mr Commissiong said that Bermuda did not want to be like the Cayman Islands.

He said: “Our parents fought and sacrificed to make sure we weren't going to be like Cayman.

“So take your Cayman examples and you know where to put them.”

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said that Bermuda's high cost of living had “always been buffered by a healthy number of people living and working in Bermuda”.

He added: “We have got to get high net-worth people investing in Bermuda to create the many opportunities that have allowed Bermudians to live a good, healthy lifestyle.”

Mr Cannonier said: “There are not enough people on this island to support the economy.”

He added that there was “blame enough to go around” for the state of the island's economy, “but the fact remains right now if we don't get something happening, hopelessness is going to set in”.

Bermudians' needs paramount: Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 04, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated March 04, 2019 at 6:42 am)

MPs clash over immigration reform

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