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‘Staggered approach’ to immigration best

Measured approach: Leah Scott, the Junior Minister of Education (File photograph)

Junior Minister for Education Leah Scott says the One Bermuda Alliance should consider a “staggered approach” to the granting of Bermudian and permanent resident status in the current climate.

The proposal, announced this month, would allow residents who have lived on the island for 20 years to gain status, while those resident for 15 years would be entitled to permanent residency.

Ms Scott said while she supported Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy’s proposal to make such provisions for long-term residents, she was concerned with the timing.

The announcement sparked an angry backlash from members of the community, not least former shadow immigration minister Walton Brown, who described the move as “reminiscent of the racist policies of the 1960s”.

Speaking with The Royal Gazette, Ms Scott said: “It is important to regularise the positions of families where you have parents that are Bermudian but the children aren’t, or vice versa. People who have been here a long time and have contributed to the country should have a right to be citizens of the country — they are a part of our family. I agree with that and I do support the minister.

“However, if this were ten or 15 years ago when the economy was awash with cash and people had jobs, the things we are doing now would not be a concern.

“The critical thing for me is the timing of it in terms of the economy not being ready for it and the people not being ready for it. There is a very real and palpable fear about having a PRC [permanent residents certificate holder] or an expat get their job.

“The reality is that most of the people here are already working and would not be doing jobs that Bermudians are doing in any event but there is a perception. We could be a bit more measured in our approach.

“There is a fear there will be a voting base for the OBA granted in mass. I don’t think that it is true, it is misguided but again, it is the perception.”

Asked to elaborate on how the government could take a staggered approach to the immigration proposals, Ms Scott said: “Before there was a moratorium on status there were 40 grants given per year. I don’t think that is an unreasonable approach, even if it was the approach we took for the next five years.

“That would be moderated and would provide a greater level of comfort to the community. I shared with the minister that this was maybe one of the things we could temper to make people more comfortable with it.”

Ms Scott said that her party needed to better communicate its intentions as a government.

“Part of the challenge we have had as a government is effectively being able to communicate. Part of the challenge for us is we have been trying to get things done and turn the ship around — build up the economy and create jobs.

“Right now anything and everything we do is going to be under the microscope and people are not going to be happy about everything we do.

“I think that we just have to be more communicative and educate people more about the things that we are doing because there is nothing we are doing that is intended to cause harm to anybody. Our intention is to build up our country so that people do have jobs, so that our children have jobs and something to look forward to.

“If the proposals go ahead they will give people a level of security and a home knowing they are not going to be asked to leave. If they get Bermudian status, they have a right to participate in the decisions of the country by voting. They will be able to buy property and there are a lot of homeowners trying to offload properties and have not been able to do so.

“Overall it is a good thing but like anything it is about how you approach it and how you present it.”

Facing criticism following the announcement, Mr Fahy defended the move by highlighting potential economic benefits including revenue from applications and greater incentive for investment by foreign workers.

He also spoke to a human rights element: “Bermuda is one of the only places in the world that does not have a pathway to status that isn’t through marriage.

“The unfortunate reality is that Bermuda’s immigration policy has allowed substantial numbers of people to live in Bermuda with no real hope or expectation that they can ever achieve the full rights associated with being Bermudian.

“The status quo is totally unacceptable.”