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Land licences are dealt with in a timely manner Govt.

Mixed-status couples applying for their first home have priority for land licences and have gotten them in under eight weeks in all recorded cases.

Other licence applications for Bermudians married to non-Bermudians may have taken longer due to a “backlog”, Chief Immigration Officer Rozy Azhar has said.

She said the logjam was due to the number of people applying for Bermuda trusts or submitting incomplete land licence forms, but both issues have since been remedied.

Ms Azhar was responding to a ‘Letter to the Editor' by Bermuda Democratic Alliance deputy leader Katherine Michelmore, published this week.

Dr Michelmore said Bermudians were waiting up to six months to have their licences approved.

She said the wait was having a negative impact on the housing market.

“Even if you agree with the Government's rationale for the need for licences, it must be admitted that this is an unacceptable delay,” she stated.

“The ‘subject to licence' clause puts Bermudian buyers at an initial disadvantage in vying for property, and then leaves families in a state of limbo whilst they await the permission to purchase.

“How are Bermudians meant to plan for a closure date when there is no guarantee regarding when their licence will be approved? What dampening effect is this having on the buoyancy of the housing market in a climate already restricted by the austerity measures of local banks?”

Land licences have been required for all Bermudians married or living with foreigners for homes they own and which their partners financially contribute to or benefit from.

Those who fail to comply could face prosecution under the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment Act 2007 and may face a five-year jail term or $1 million fine.

Ms Azhar said: “Contrary to Dr Michelmore's comments, the legislation requiring licences for restricted persons including spouses of Bermudians has, in fact, been in effect since before 1981.

“Unfortunately some lawyers sought to get around this requirement by creating Bermuda trusts, not only for spouses but for other non-Bermudians. The 2007 Amendment Act sought to eliminate this occurrence.”

The practice of establishing trusts where a non-Bermudian gains unlawful interest in land is also known as ‘fronting'.

Last month Home Safety Minister David Burch said 19 people were being investigated for the offence.

Ms Azhar said: “It is true that there was a backlog resulting from the number of Bermudians applying for constructive trusts for their spouses who had provided financial assistance to purchase homes. In addition, over 90 percent of the applications for land licences submitted by their lawyers were incomplete.

“We have remedied both issues by one, returning incomplete applications and two, prioritising applications where the Bermudian and his or her non-Bermudian spouse are first-time homeowners.

“As a result, such applications should only take between six to eight weeks, subject to the application being complete and meeting the requirements of the principal act and its underlying regulations.”

Ms Azhar continued: “Our records show that all such licences have been processed by the end of the eight-week period. However, any Bermudian who has been waiting for longer than that period should contact Danette Ming, assistant chief Immigration officer”.

l Dr Ming can be reached on 295-5151 ext. 1444 or dwming[AT]gov.bm. Mixed-status couples who own property must have a land licence by December 31.

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Published December 03, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 3:39 am)

Land licences are dealt with in a timely manner Govt.

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