Abolition of land licences may be on the way
Controversial land licences for mixed-status couples who own property together are likely to be abolished, Premier Paula Cox indicated yesterday.
She told a press conference after the reading of the Throne Speech that it was “certainly” Government’s intent to “look at that and to confirm that”.
The Finance Minister said the issue had been raised at Progressive Labour Party caucus level and considered by a group recently appointed to review Bermuda’s immigration laws and land ownership policies.
Ms Cox said Cabinet would ultimately decide whether to get rid of the licences, introduced in the Immigration and Protection Amendment Act 2007. “The considered view is that it’s time to consider that,” said the Premier.
Under the legislation, the $1,375 land licences must be obtained by any foreigner giving financial help to a Bermudian to enable them to acquire property.
Those affected include homeowning couples comprised of a Bermudian and an expatriate spouse; those in breach of the Act can face a five-year jail term and/or a fine of up to $1 million.
The licences have been criticised by realtors, conveyancing lawyers and Bermudians married to foreigners.
Last year’s Throne Speech promised a major overhaul of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956.
This year’s speech said the overhaul was being done in phases, with the land policy review group looking at “various policies on land holding and disposition”, with particular emphasis on permanent residency certificate (PRC) holders and the foreign purchaser market.
The speech stated: “In addition, this year, the Government will focus on outlawing sham marriages and will remove legal barriers denying home ownership to non-Bermudian members of Bermudian families.”
Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz said last night: “That’s one of the few definitive statements here.”
He said the intent of the 2007 Act, to outlaw fronting, was laudable but the draconian legislation “went too far” and penalised non-Bermudian spouses and children.
A “surprising number” of those adversely affected by the licences, he added, were black middle-class PLP supporters.
The One Bermuda Alliance MP said he would welcome the abolition of the licences and the potential for the real estate market to be opened up.
“It’s time to review the whole thing and get rid of all these requirements in terms of spouses and family members and also in terms of sales to foreigners. We need to restimulate the market.”