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Government withdraws legal challenge to PRC status

Michael Fahy

Government yesterday backed down on a decision to challenge a court ruling to grant status to Permanent Resident Certificate holders.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy told Senate there was “no merit” in pushing ahead with an appeal against a Supreme Court ruling that some PRC holders were eligible to apply for status.

Mr Fahy said lawyers had told Government they could not win an appeal.

He added: “This means that the avenue to Bermuda status for certain PRC holders that was created by the previous Government in 2001 will stand.

“This decision has not been taken lightly but it is one we take without reservation because it is based on a clear interpretation of the law, with due regard for justice and human rights and because, in the final analysis, it is the compassionate and right thing to do.”

But Opposition Senate leader Diallo Rabain said he “took exception” to the tone of Sen. Fahy’s statement - and pointed out that Government had blocked a PLP bid to change the law to cut off applications for Bermudian status.

He added: “The PLP’s stance on this subject is we close the loophole and sit down and have a proper discussion of pathways to status.”

And he questioned what would happen if a family with children had some who qualified for status and others who did not.

Sen. Fahy said: “If someone is not eligible for status, they don’t get status.”

He added: “The Government has undertaken to look at immigration as a whole. This situation is just one of the reasons why.”

Mr Fahy said that inquiries about acquiring status were made in October 2012 and applicants were told that there was no route to status.

He added he rejected applications nearly a year later - a move overturned by the Immigration Appeal Tribunal and upheld by Supreme Court this year.

He added: “In essence, the Supreme Court ruling means that the Minister responsible for Immigration, save for various circumstances as set out in the Act, must grant Bermudian status to a PRC holder if the holder was granted a PRC as a result of having been in Bermuda on or before July 31st 1989, submits an application for naturalisation to become a British Overseas Territories Citizen and an application for Bermudian status under Section 20B (2)(b) of the Act, and if he Minister supports the naturalisation application and the Governor approves it.

“This provision in the Act became active as a result of PRC legislation being passed in 2001. When the matter was brought to the attention of the Ministry in October 2012 under the previous government, nothing was done to interfere with the relevant section of the Act.”

Mr Fahy said that 578 PRC’s are of British descent, 545 PRC’s are of Portuguese descent, 157 or so are of Jamaican descent and the remainder hail originally from Canada, America, Philippines, Barbados, Ireland and many other countries.

He added that immigration records indicate that 1455 PRCs are potentially eligible for status under Section 20B of the Act.

“We do not know how many children of these PRC holders are eligible for status, but believe the number is minimal — possibly a few hundred. We say that because pursuant to the Act the children would have to be at least 18 years old upon application but under the age of 22, ordinarily resident in Bermuda for the five years immediately preceding their status application, and of good conduct and character without a conviction of any offence that, in the Minister’s opinion shows moral turpitude.

“These conditions alone reduce the numbers substantially. In our assessment, most persons who apply under section 20B, will, if they have children, will now have children who are over 22 years of age.

“As for spouses, they would have to be married to a Bermudian for 10 years to be eligible, so that clock would start ticking with the status grant.”

And he said Opposition estimates of 4000 to 6000 potential new Bermudians was misleading.

And Sen. Fahy added: “The PRC situation is simply one more issue they are using to spread distrust, pessimism and doubt, in their attempt to divide people for political gain.”