Premier David Burt left Bermuda today, bound for the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada.

Mr Burt will be participating in a ceremony that will confirm the reinstatement of the BMU code to Bermuda’s British Overseas Territories Citizens (BOTC) passports.

A government spokesperson said: “The removal of the BMU code, which is the specific country code for Bermuda, took place when the responsibility for printing all BOTC passports, including Bermuda’s, was taken over by the UK Government.

“The Bermuda BMU code was replaced with GBR code, which is the code for Great Britain and show when the biometric chip in Bermudian passports is scanned.

“This change has caused confusion at ports of entry for many Bermudians when travelling to places such as the United States, where they are not required to apply for a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The GBR code on Bermudian passports led officials in the United States to mistakenly believe that one of these documents was required. It left many Bermudians stranded due to missed flights, and caused unnecessary stress.”

It was also noted that “Premier David Burt raised this issue during his first meeting with the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and pressed for a resolution”, in 2017.

“Mr Johnson advised that the matter would be looked into,” the spokesperson added.

“In 2018, the Government became aware of an increase in Bermudians being denied access to the US from third-country borders, which resulted in many being stranded in foreign jurisdictions. This led to an increase in consular cases that required immediate assistance from the Government of Bermuda London Office. This rise in cases was brought to the attention of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to highlight the need for the return of the BMU code.

“At that time, the Government were advised that returning the BMU code was not possible. Premier Burt again raised the issue personally with the UK Government after refusing to accept the position that the code could not be returned.

“In 2019, then Minister of National Security Wayne Caines met with the Home Office Minister, Seema Kennedy, to address the urgent need and push forward the return of the BMU Code.

“Later that year, at the request of the then Minister for the Overseas Territories, Lord Ahmad, the Government of Bermuda’s UK Representative Kimberley Durrant accompanied officials from the UK Home Office and FCDO to the New Technologies Working Group meeting of ICAO in Munich to discuss the request of returning the BMU Code. The New Technologies Working Group supported the issuing of the Code. The presence of Bermuda was required to outline the humanitarian needs of Bermudians and seek ICAO’s approval.

“In 2020, action was agreed by the Joint Ministerial Council for the UK Home Office to begin technical analysis on the way forward.

“In November 2021, following delays brought on by the pandemic, Premier Burt returned to the UK for the annual Joint Ministerial Council meeting and again raised the issue with UK officials. In a bilateral meeting with then Minister for the Overseas Territories Amanda Milling, Premier Burt requested a timeline from the UK Government on when Bermudians can expect the BMU code to be returned to their passports. This was especially important as Bermudians began to travel again following the reduction of international travel restrictions.

“During the meeting, it was agreed that the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office will work with the Home Office to confirm a timeframe for the return of this Code.

“In June 2022, the Premier again raised the issue with Minister Milling in the annual bilateral while in the UK, as the Government of Bermuda had yet to be advised of any further progress. Later, in 2022, the BMU Working Group was formed to include technical officials from the UK Home Office, FCDO, Department of Immigration, Government House and the Government of Bermuda London Office.

“In November 2023, Premier Burt returned to the UK for the annual Joint Ministerial Council and meetings with UK officials, including the new Minister for the Overseas Territories, David Rutley. During this meeting, Minister Rutley informed the Premier that technical resolutions had been completed and that the BMU code would be reinstated on Bermudian BOTC passports in 2024.”

On the reinstatement, Premier Burt said: “It has been a long battle, most notably for Bermudians who have been travelling for education, medical reasons, or vacation and have been impacted and stranded by the removal of the code over seven years ago under the former Government.

“Since returning to office, this Government has consistently raised this issue with the UK Government. I have personally raised it in my meetings with UK Ministers on numerous occasions as this was a top priority issue for the people of Bermuda and, therefore, the Government of Bermuda.

“In all of our correspondence with UK officials, we emphasised the confusion, inconvenience and unnecessary stress it was causing for Bermudians who told the Government that action was needed. Bermudians spoke, the Government listened, and we have delivered despite being told at one point that this was not possible.

“I am grateful for the work of Cabinet ministers, public officers in the Department of Immigration, the Cabinet Office, and the London Office, who have been working tirelessly to see the code reinstated. I am also grateful for the support of the Government House, which has supported the government’s efforts to find a resolution to this issue.

“I know that this news will bring great relief to many Bermudians, and I am proud that we have delivered this for them so that they can return to travelling without added obstacles that are no fault of their own. I look forward to participating in the official ceremony at the International Civil Aviation Organisation headquarters that will symbolise the end of years of hard work by many dedicated persons on behalf of the people of Bermuda and the end of much stress and angst for Bermudians.”

The official ceremony took place today. Premier Burt is due to return to Bermuda tomorrow (Apr 17).