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Belongers status paper heads to Cabinet

Ben Smith, Shadow Minister of Social Development and Sport and National Security (Photograph from parliament website).

Government ministers are expected to discuss the problem of belongers to Bermuda in the next few days as part of its effort to make changes to immigration law.

Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said a paper on the subject would help the Cabinet decide what its next steps will be.

He told the House of Assembly yesterday that immigration reform legislation could be tabled in Parliament by the summer as his team tried to balance the needs of Bermudians with those of international businesses.

Ben Smith, the Shadow Minister of Social Development and Sport and National Security, asked about non-Bermudian belongers as representatives in Bermuda sport.

His question came after Narinder Hargun, the Chief Justice, ruled last year that two people “belonging to Bermuda” as children of naturalised British Overseas Territories Citizens had the same right to compete in sports events as “a citizen and/or national under Bermuda law”.

Mr Smith, who is also the national swimming coach, asked if the ministry could provide further details. Mr Caines said the subject was “quite emotive” and revealed that Walton Brown, the Cabinet Office minister, had written about it for colleagues.

He said: “We have a paper that is due to go to Cabinet any day now with reference to the plan around the belonger status.

“We will have the opportunity to discuss that within the next week at Cabinet and we will be able to have a decision made on that quite soon.”

Mr Smith pointed out later that the problem for managers was that if they tried to protect Bermudians when team selections were made “it puts the sport in a difficult situation where potentially they are going to end up back in the courts”.

Mr Caines explained that work was carried out over the past six months to understand “the drivers causing disquiet in the country” but that comprehensive changes to immigration law could not happen overnight.

He said: “There is a delicate balance when understanding that we need international business coming to Bermuda but at the same time, within that matrix, Bermudians have to be given opportunities.”

MPs heard that the first stage of the plan for immigration change involved the processing of work permits and was completed last December.

A review of the department’s work is expected to start in April, when it was hoped “bottlenecks” in the system could be tackled.

Mr Caines said: “The immigration reform phase is at the centre of the overarching reform and will emphasise policy development, public consultation and the drafting of legislation. The ministry aims to bring legislation to the House by July 2019.”

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance, said it was “vital” to deal with problems that affected belongers and mixed-status families.

He added: “We just can’t have it, these are young people, all they know is Bermuda and when you talk to them they’re Bermudian through and through.”

Mr Caines told MPs the position of mixed-status families was also expected to be debated in Parliament before the summer recess.