By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday the Department of Immigration is introducing “a new regime and pricing structure” beginning February 1.
Mr Mitchell said the revamping of the department will include new state of the art equipment and fee increases for visas. The government is also considering increasing the fees for permanent residency and citizenship applications and will soon implement stiffer requirements for those seeking to live in The Bahamas.
He also said beginning in September, every foreign person enrolled in school, even children born in the Bahamas to immigrants, will be required to have a student permit.
He made his comments at the 2015 Bahamas Business Outlook Seminar at the Melia hotel.
Mr Mitchell said “regular migrants and their would-be employers” complain of slow services by the department. He said the only way to rectify the service is to upgrade the equipment, which costs money. Money, Mr Mitchell said, that will come from fee increases.
“We have received recently in this direction permission to increase the visa fees which will more accurately reflect the cost of the service with effect from February 1. That is the point to which we ought to get with regard to all government services. The price ought to accurately reflect the cost of the delivery of the service. You will then be able to fund all the inputs and there can be no excuse for the lack of timely and rational delivery of the product or service,” he said.
“Indeed, one easy example is to be able to charge a premium for a rush or emergency service. Today, sad to say if you pay your fees to get a work permit application it often takes six weeks before you have the actual work permit in your hands....Most advocates say that the offer to live here at a price, should stop at the level of permanent residence with the possible right to work, and that as presently priced, the right to live here as a permanent resident is underpriced and therefore undervalued. Considerable work has already been done on rectifying this pricing structure as we speak and the question is when we can convince the exchequer and the wider government that this is a sensible direction within which to move.
“The present $10,000 per year fee for permanent residence is considered too low. I am certain that you will hear more on this subject from the new Trade Minister Hope Strachan as she finds her way in her new office. However, I am confident that there is a new regime and pricing structure coming in the not too distant future with regard to the various resident products of the financial services sector.”
Mr Mitchell said new rules are also going to be implemented that will make it easier for the government to keep track of immigrants who work and live in the Bahamas and also those who attend our schools.
“For example, all schools will be asked to be sure that any foreign national in a Bahamian school has a student permit to be in the Bahamas as of the opening of the fall term. The annual permit costs 25 dollars with a 100 dollar processing fee and every non-national should have one, including those born here to non-national parents,” he said.
“In a few months, we hope to attach conditions to the work permits which will say that if you get a work permit you also have to have health insurance for the worker and adequate housing. If you cannot demonstrate that, then the work permit will not be granted. This is being put out for discussion but it is near to completion.”
Mr Mitchell said none of these policies can be successful if they do not have the broad support of the Bahamian people. In that vein, Mr Mitchell said he is seeking to establish a public affairs unit within the Department of Immigration and appoint a department official to handle the public’s questions and concerns.