House: ‘no giveaways’ in immigration reform
Immigration legislation will be amended to solve the problems of mixed-status families and settle the status of children born overseas to Bermudian parents, the national security minister said yesterday.
Wayne Caines insisted there would be “no giveaways” as he tabled proposed changes to immigration laws, delayed from last year because of “unresolved issues”.
The amendments to the 1956 Act, to be debated on March 16, are the first in reforms that will also affect permanent resident's certificates and Bermudian status.
Further reforms will deal with “belongers”, such as naturalised British Overseas Territories citizens and the spouses of Bermudians, and the status of job-makers.
Mr Caines, speaking in the House of Assembly, said a replacement for the old Act would have gone against the Government's promise for bipartisan collaboration on reforms.
He added: “A new Act would also have no case law behind it, and lead to legal uncertainty.”
Children born overseas to Bermudians “up to two generations” back will be automatically Bermudian if the legislation is approved.
For children born before the legislation, a Bermudian parent would still have to prove they were domiciled in Bermuda — but Mr Caines said the process would become simpler.
A two-year “window” will be created to allow children of PRC holders, who were excluded from residency, to obtain PRC status.
Mr Caines said that the two-year period was “crucial” to implement reforms for PRCs.
Children from mixed-status families previously left without status would become eligible to qualify through the Bermuda status of brothers or sisters.
The minister, quoting Prime Minister Winston Churchill, said the move was “not the end — it's the end of the beginning”.
Mr Caines said immigration reform was an “emotive” issue and highlighted mass protests that blocked Parliament in March 2016 under the previous One Bermuda Alliance administration.
David Burt, the Premier, declined to reveal what changes would come next, but said the stimulation of economic growth should come before an increase in population.
He dismissed “mythical figures of imaginary people” when business leaders called for an increase in the number of residents.
Mr Burt said: “The most important thing to do is for people to speak from a position of fact, and not conjecture.
“In 2019, we had the strongest job growth in Bermuda in 13 years.
“The fact is, if there are more people working in a country, then there are more people living and working in a country.
“If you drop 5,000 people on Front Street tomorrow, where are they going to work?”
Mr Burt said: “The only way we're going to have this population growth is if we have more jobs and economic activity here on the island.
“Remember, any investor can come to Bermuda, set up a company, employ Bermudians, and have the right to stay here for ever, pass that status on to their children, and have access to a British passport.
“The only thing they cannot get is Bermudian status, and that is what we will be discussing in the future phases of immigration.
“But what I must say is, they don't offer status for people in Dubai, and there's not a complaint about people living there and participating in that economy.
“So we have to be real about what the discussions are.”
Mr Burt added the Government had “kept our promise” on cross-party collaboration.
He said: “It's bipartisan because it's important that investors and others know that immigration policy is not going to change because of who's in office.
“It doesn't make any sense changing policy if the next government is just going to reverse the changes made.
“An immigration policy should be long term, thought out, and that is the reason we committed to doing this in a bipartisan fashion.”
He said those who insisted that “we need more people” needed to “spell out exactly what they mean? What are the specifics?”.
He added: “My job in 2020 is to make sure there are more jobs than there were in 2019 so we can continue to grow the economy and provide opportunities for Bermudians.”
• To see the Bill tabled today by Wayne Caines, and his ministerial statement in full, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”