199 total votes.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government’s new immigration policy has severely affected employment opportunities for persons of Haitian descent, according to activist Louby Georges, who charged that immigrants cannot fully comply with regulations because there is no supporting legislation.
With no legal framework three months after the policy was first introduced, Mr Georges, host of the Kreyol Connection, said affected persons have been fired and many remain in limbo because processing for the new requirements, namely the belonger’s permit, has not yet started.
“The Department of Immigration has an application form for something that does not exist,” Mr Georges said, “there is no such thing as a belonger’s permit.
“(Immigration Director William) Pratt told me in his office, he said ‘well to be honest the problem is that there is no legislation in place to support the belonger’s permit, so we are hoping that in the next two weeks we can present a bill to parliament and hoping it can be debated and then passed, and then we can start reviewing applications, and then we can start issuing (permits)’.”
“Persons are being laid off and fired as a result of an announcement made first on the floor of the House of Assembly from September 17, 2014. The official opposition is afraid to speak up on the issue because they don’t want to appear that they are siding with the Haitian community or siding with the immigrants,” he said, “because Bahamians generally think that Haitians or anything to do with Haitians is illegal or bad”.
Mr Georges spoke out against the immigration policy at a lecture hosted by the Bahamas Bar Association last week Thursday. He described the experience of persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent as “20 times” more severe than challenges faced by ordinary citizens, and charged that there were no measures to ensure that deported persons can access constitutional rights once eligible.
On November 1, 2014, the government introduced a wider immigration policy that, among other things, required every non-Bahamian living in the country to have a passport of their nationality with proof of their status to live and work in The Bahamas.
On Tuesday, Immigration Director William Pratt confirmed that the department has received many calls from concerned employers over the legal status of their employees under the new policy, adding that the matter is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.
Mr Pratt stressed that it was not the department’s intention to jeopardise employment and encouraged individuals to seek assistance with his office for alternative options to secure a work permit.
“They are entitled to have a work permit, of course,” he said. “If they’re already employed and lived here all their lives, some employers have contacted us about persons in that category. Some of these persons, their citizenship is already before the board awaiting decision. So on a case by case basis, we wouldn’t object.”
Mr Pratt added: “Some people are already employed, Bahamians hired them based on their birth certificates. They were born here, grew up here, they were hired as Bahamians, but technically they are not. We will work on a case by case basis on those issues,” he added, “most of those persons their application is complete and they will be sworn in shortly.”
Mr Pratt explained that work and residency permits were always a requirement but over the years enforcement was relaxed. Since the new policy was introduced, he confirmed that “many employers” have called or sent letters to the department.
He added: “Those persons who are born in The Bahamas, according to our Constitution their citizenship is not automatic. So because of the constitutional law under the Immigration Act they require work and residence permits but over the years we never really enforced it, to the extent there were many persons who got jobs and were working and their application (was still being processed), but going on forward now, once this belonger’s permit comes on stream then it won’t be an issue because persons would have it from infancy.”
The resident belonger’s permit will give those born in The Bahamas who have a right to apply for citizenship under the Constitution some form of status while their application is pending, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said last December.
“It is only issued to the children of Bahamians whose parents got their citizenship pursuant to Article 3(2) of the Constitution and were born outside The Bahamas, or to those children whose parents were lawfully in The Bahamas and they were born here,” he said at the time.