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Immigration reform in trouble?

Worrying outlook: Sylvan Richards is concerned that legislation delays with mixed-status families will have a knock-on effect for the Goverment’s delivery on immigration reform (File photograph)

Delays to legislation designed to ease the plight of mixed status families could signal challenges for the Government’s delivery of comprehensive immigration reform, an Opposition MP claimed.

Sylvan Richards, the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment, said he believes that postponements to tabling the Bill indicated resistance in Cabinet, which could suggest there are further struggles with more sensitive aspects of the wider issue, in the months ahead.

He said: “It’s the least controversial portion of the immigration policy and my concern is that because the Government is having difficulty dealing with this low-hanging fruit of mixed-status families, I’m concerned about their efforts towards comprehensive immigration reform, which is what they were seeking when they were in opposition.”

Mr Richards added: “I’m hopeful that an immigration Bill will be tabled in Parliament this Friday when we meet.

“If it’s not, then, in my view, that’s not a good sign in terms of the Progressive Labour Party being able to bring forward immigration reform.”

Wayne Caines, the national security minister, postponed amendments to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1965 in July when he said there were “important elements that remain unresolved”.

It was understood that mixed-status families legislation would be introduced to MPs earlier this month, but that was delayed once again as a Bill to raise the island’s debt ceiling and a slew of measures aimed at boosting the economy were tabled instead.

Mr Richards, who speaks on immigration matters for the One Bermuda Alliance, explained: “This, is my opinion, based on the time and the delays that the Government is taking in bringing this Bill to Parliament, it appears that he is having difficulty getting his cabinet to agree on the Bill.

“It’s my view that the minister knows what needs to be done in terms of our immigration policy. He knows our economy is floundering, he knows that people are still emigrating from Bermuda in substantial numbers. This Bill that he’s looking to table is, in my opinion, low-hanging fruit, meaning it’s dealing with mixed-status families.

“It’s dealing with people who are already here in Bermuda, people who were maybe born in Bermuda but, for whatever reason, they don’t have status, people who we want to stay in Bermuda but, because they don’t have certainty because of their status, they’re leaving and seeking their fortunes elsewhere, which is causing a bit of a brain drain.”

Mr Richards added: “In my view, the Government’s rhetoric when they were in opposition, in terms of fighting against the OBA’s Pathways to Status, has painted them in a corner with their own supporters, meaning that I believe that the Minister Wayne Caines — and I also believe that the Premier — believe that in order for Bermuda to get back on track economically, we need to liberalise, in a sensible way, our immigration policy, which is working against us.”

A town hall meeting to discuss immigration reform will be held tomorrow from 6.30pm until 8pm in the Berkeley Institute cafetorium, after it was rescheduled in anticipation of Hurricane Humberto.

Mr Caines will host the event and he will be joined by members of the bipartisan immigration committee as well as Danette Ming, the Chief Immigration Officer, and Collin Anderson, the national security ministry’s permanent secretary.

Families with mixed status include where one parent holds Bermuda status or a permanent resident’s certificate, while a spouse or children do not, despite being born on the island.

Mr Caines said earlier that a bipartisan immigration reform plan would be tabled in the House of Assembly on July 12, taking into account the needs of businesses and Bermuda as a whole.

Then, on July 23, he said: “This week we aim to table amendments to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1965 and legislation that centres around mixed-status families.”

Two days later Mr Caines announced that the draft legislation, designed to provide “the justice mixed-status families deserve”, would not be tabled as planned.

He said then: “After a series of meetings with the parliamentary drafters and the government policy team, there are important elements that remain unresolved, and it would be irresponsible to forward legislation that does not fully meet the needs of Bermuda.

“We simply need more time to get it right, and I have asked for the Mixed-Status Bill to be tabled September.”

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, noted earlier this month that the special sitting of Parliament had initially been called so that Mr Caines could table a mixed-status families Bill, which was put on hold again.

Mr Richards said last week: “If he wasn’t getting pushback in some shape, form or fashion, this Bill would have been tabled weeks ago, months ago.

“It’s quite apparent to everyone that he’s having difficulty getting this Bill through Cabinet.”

The opposition member cited the BermudaFirst Future State report unveiled earlier this month, which identified action on talent and immigration among the country’s “critical priorities”.

Its top recommendations for immigration reform that would produce “more jobs for Bermudians than the present immigration regime” included shifting the mindset of the Immigration Department so that it recognised the needs of the business community.

The advisory group would like to see a “growing population with enhanced immigration policies that expand opportunities for Bermudians and make Bermuda a destination of choice for diverse talent who will be a productive part of our community”.

Mr Richards said: “It’s at a point now that our competitors have figured out immigration.

“I have to look at Cayman Islands — Cayman Islands is eating our lunch every day because they have done what needs to be done with their immigration policies to encourage investment.

“Bermuda is being left behind because of our mindset towards immigration.”

He added: “We need to be more cognisant of the fact that being over-protectionist is not serving us well at this present time.”

Mr Richards said a “silent exodus every day” meant young people were leaving Bermuda “in droves”.

He added: “Unless we can encourage people to come here to work and live, encourage job-makers to come here, our future is not looking very bright.”

A spokeswoman for Supporting Fair Immigration Reform said the group was concerned with the “lack of progress” on immigration reform.

She explained: “As of today, the deadlines that were set have come and gone.

“We have yet to hear what the Government’s plan is for immigration reform.

“We anticipate that the town hall meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening will be an opportunity for the Government to share their plan for immigration reform as we have been in the consultation phase for over three years.”

The spokeswoman added: “If we do not move on from consultation, there will never be a resolution.”

Mr Caines commented: “The amendment to the immigration protection Act will be tabled in the House this Friday in Parliament, and debated in two weeks.”

To watch live coverage of the immigration reform town hall meeting visit The Royal Gazette website