Immigration Reform: Children born overseas to Bermudian parents “up to two generations” back will be automatically Bermudian under new immigration legislation put forward by National Security Minister Wayne Caines on Friday.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, the Minister said the proposed amendments aim to solve the problems encountered by mixed-status families and settle the issue of status of children born overseas to Bermudian parents.
But he said there would be “no giveaways” in the proposed changes to Bermuda’s immigration laws, which he said was delayed because of “unresolved issues”.
The new amendments to the 1956 Act, will be debated on March 16 as the first set of reforms that will also affect permanent resident’s certificates and Bermudian status.
Moving forward, he said further reforms will deal with “belongers”, like naturalised British Overseas Territories citizens, the spouses of Bermudians, and the status of job-makers.
The Minister also noted that a replacement for the old Act would have gone against the Government’s promise for bipartisan collaboration.
“A new Act would also have no case law behind it, and lead to legal uncertainty,” he said.
For children born before the legislation, a Bermudian parent would still have to prove they were domiciled in Bermuda — but Mr Caines said the process would be simplified.
There will be a two-year “window” to allow children of PRC holders, who were excluded from residency, to obtain PRC status.
Mr Caines said the two-year period was “crucial” to implement reforms for PRCs.
Children from mixed-status families previously left without status will become eligible to qualify through the Bermuda status of their brothers or sisters.
The Minister also recalled the mass protests that blocked Parliament in March 2016, against ‘Pathways to Status’ put forward by the previous One Bermuda Alliance administration.
Premier David But declined to say what changes would come next. But he stressed that the stimulation of economic growth should come before an increase in population.
And he dismissed what he termed “mythical figures of imaginary people” when business leaders called for an increase in the number of residents.
“The most important thing to do is for people to speak from a position of fact, and not conjecture.
“In 2019, we had the strongest job growth in Bermuda in 13 years,” said Mr Burt.
“The fact is, if there are more people working in a country, then there are more people living and working in a country.
“If you drop 5,000 people on Front Street tomorrow, where are they going to work?
“The only way we’re going to have this population growth is if we have more jobs and economic activity here on the island.
“Remember, any investor can come to Bermuda, set up a company, employ Bermudians, and have the right to stay here for ever, pass that status on to their children, and have access to a British passport,” he added.
“The only thing they cannot get is Bermudian status, and that is what we will be discussing in the future phases of immigration.
“But what I must say is, they don’t offer status for people in Dubai, and there’s not a complaint about people living there and participating in that economy.
“So we have to be real about what the discussions are.”
Overall, he said the Government had “kept our promise” on cross-party collaboration.
“It’s bipartisan because it’s important that investors and others know that immigration policy is not going to change because of who’s in office,” Mr Burt said.
“It doesn’t make any sense changing policy if the next government is just going to reverse the changes made.
“An immigration policy should be long term, thought out, and that is the reason we committed to doing this in a bipartisan fashion.”
For those who insisted that “we need more people” in Bermuda, he urged them to “spell out exactly what they mean?”
“What are the specifics?
“My job in 2020 is to make sure there are more jobs than there were in 2019 so we can continue to grow the economy and provide opportunities for Bermudians.”
Ministerial Statement Highlights:
- “Phase 1 addresses operational back-logs in the Department of Immigration including work permit processing and has resulted in us closely monitoring this area to ensure we have no slippage moving forward
- “Phase 2 involves improving processes and procedures within all sections of the Department to remove bottlenecks, eliminate waste and improve efficiency. We seek to improve the effectiveness of decision making, have more consistent outcomes and improve turn-around-times. For this phase we partnered with the private sector through the Association of Bermuda International Companies [ABIC], the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers [ABIR] and others to fund “Lean” Process Improvements with the assistance of KPMG Bermuda. For this partnership we are especially thankful
- Phase 3 involves policy and legislative reforms and again we partnered with the private sector and with KPMG to augment the internal Government team, in addition to working collaboratively with other Government Ministries on legislative amendments. This is the area most often referred to as Immigration Reform, however, it represents only one phase of the wider reform
We have not rushed, or taken our responsibility lightly. We have proceeded cautiously, fully considering the racially charged history of immigration in this country and the fact that this is an emotive issue. The full scope of policy and legislative changes required under phase three (3) is broad and includes:
- Permanent Resident Certificates
- Bermudian Status
- Job Makers
- Mixed Status Families
Phase 4 is the implementation phase and includes work to update IT systems, training of staff and an examination of the organizational structure in light of procedural and legislative changes. This phase also includes the implementation of a new Border Management System, scheduled to ‘go live’ in the summer of 2020.
This new system will allow the Department of Immigration to better perform its role of protecting our borders and is a critical dependency for the new airport to open with the use of E-gates. There is much more to be done for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, but again, the tabling of this Bill is one positive step in the right direction.”
Overview of Problem & Solution:
The definition of a Mixed Status Family is:
‘ family where one or more parents has Bermudian Status or holds a Permanent Resident’s Certificate but their son, daughter, or spouse does not have either Bermudian Status or hold a Permanent Resident’s Certificate.’
The problems this ‘Repatriation and Mixed Status Families’ Bill addresses are:
- That Bermudians experience great difficulty for their loved ones, who are born overseas, to obtain Bermudian Status; and
- That current Immigration law is unfair for Bermudian families because it creates differences in rights between family members, with some family members having no rights in the country of their birth
The Repatriation Issue
We addressed the situation of Bermudians who have children born overseas and the administrative burden of the paperwork in two ways: both moving forward, prospectively, and going back in time, retrospectively.
Prospectively, for children born overseas to a Bermudian parent, from the commencement of this Legislation, parents of these children will not be required to prove that they were domiciled in Bermuda at the time of the child’s birth for up to two generations of children born overseas.
That means if a Bermudian has a child born overseas, that child is automatically Bermudian at birth without the need to fulfil any other requirement. And if that child born overseas in turn has a child of its own, that second generation born overseas would also be Bermudian from birth.
Retrospectively, the Bill does not make any legislative change. In the case of a child who was born prior to the commencement of this legislation, there is still a requirement for the Bermudian parent to prove that they were domiciled in Bermuda at the time of the birth. However, as part of the process improvements in the Department of Immigration, the Government will simplify and streamline this process to make it less burdensome for Bermudians to apply for their children born overseas to be granted Bermudian Status.
Mixed Status Families Issue:
We took the problems identified in the Madeiros Report under the Mixed Status Families section and simplified them into three (3) problems that the Bill addresses:
- Problem 1 addresses the issue of two siblings that were both born from the same parents in Bermuda, but on different dates, with one child having acquired Bermudian Status and the other having no regularized position under Bermuda Immigration laws. This anomaly arises from legislative changes that over time created cut-offs, which in turn resulted in one sibling with full rights and the other sibling with none. The Bill regularizes the situation of the sibling with no rights by allowing him to qualify for Bermudian Status as a result of the sibling already possessing Status.
- Problem 2 addresses the issue of a child born of Bermudian parents that has not qualified for Bermudian Status because at the time he was eligible to apply, he was either too young or too old. In some cases, both parents are Bermudian and the child was born in Bermuda. The Bill regularizes the child’s position via the parents by allowing the child to qualify for Bermudian Status.
- Problem 3 relates to the situation of Permanent Resident Certificate holders. Let me be clear that this Bill only focuses on Repatriation and Mixed Status Families. This Bill does not attempt to address the problems around PRC. However, one significant source of Mixed Status Families is the fact that persons who hold a PRC under one portion of the Act are able to pass on this status to their children, while persons who have PRC granted under another portion of the Act are not able to do so.
The answer is we are standing strong to ensure there are fair opportunities for Bermudians in their own land. We are taking steps to ensure that through our policies and practices there are good jobs for our people:
- Through ever more vigilant Compliance the Department of Immigration is fully utilizing its 14 Compliance Officers
- We have advertised the email and telephone Compliance Hotlines
- We have revisited Open, Closed and Restricted Categories of Work Permits
- We are insisting that employers have front line workers that speak English in this country and will take steps to correct this if they don’t
- We are reviewing our Work Permit Policy to make it more equitable
- We are requiring employers to have robust training and development plans to ensure that Bermudians get first opportunities for advancement.
There are myths that have been propagated that need to be directly addressed in tabling this Bill today:
- This single Bill is not the totality of Immigration Reform – it is only the beginning
- This Bill addresses the issues of Repatriation and Mixed Status Families only, but further reform is required to address other issues such as PRC, Bermudian Status and Belongers
- The sentiment that this Bill does nothing for Bermudians is patently untrue and must be rejected – there are many black Bermudians who are caught up in the law as it stands with two Bermudian parents, but unable to claim Bermudian Status as the law doesn’t allow it
- The idea that the problems addressed by this Bill have been met with indifference by Bermudians is simply false
- The fear that this Bill or any type of Immigration reform will result in a giveaway of Bermudian Status and a loss of primacy of Bermudians in their own country is a fear that must be confronted and debunked
Immigration Reform is about preserving the birthright of Bermudian parents for their children. It’s also about keeping families together. We can’t forget that historically immigration policies have been abused and we have an obligation to move forward cautiously.
We must move forward with Comprehensive Immigration Reform. We must boldly lead the way forward. We must listen, learn from each other and work together on this issue for the benefit of all of Bermuda.