By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday denied that new policies of the Immigration Department and Ministry are xenophobic.
Mr Mitchell reiterated that the Department of Immigration will not grant any job permits as long as there is a Bahamian available to do the job.
Mr Mitchell responded in a statement to former Chamber of Commerce President, Dionisio D’Aguilar, who, in an interview with a local daily newspaper, said the government must remain content with “anemic growth” if it persists with overly xenophobic policies for skilled labour.
Mr D’Aguilar also said the Bahamas does not presently have the “intellectual bandwidth” to fill the country's growing skills gap and urged the government to ease labour restrictions for foreign specialists.
Mr Mitchell called Mr D'Aguilar's comments "untrue" and "irresponsible".
"I read with interest the comments of the former Chamber of Commerce President, Dionisio D’Aguilar, who is also a well known businessman," he said. "I am deeply concerned that people reading what he had to say might accept uncritically as truth that the policies of the Immigration Department and Ministry in The Bahamas are xenophobic.
"Plainly and simply that is untrue. Mr D’Aguilar should not assert that as truth and should stop giving the impression that the department's policies, rules, regulations and procedures are in any way portraying a fear of foreigners or are biased in their applications," the statement said.
"The procedures laid down in law and policy by The Bahamas government on immigration are broadly similar and not different from any other country in this hemisphere. The requirement for the grant of a work permit is, first of all, that there is no Bahamian available for the job. That fact must be certified by the Department of Labour. Exceptions are broadly exercised where an entity wishes to have a owner’s representative, where there is a franchise which requires special expertise or where the owner prefers to have a chosen Chief Financial Officer."
However, Mr Mitchell said once the Department of Labour certifies that there is no Bahamian available for the job, the Department of Immigration will grant the permit, "many times subject to the condition that the person must train a Bahamian".
"The rate of rejections of work permit applications is less than five per cent, if that. I would be so bold as to say that no business can say that they have not been able to get the work permits they need to operate their business," the statement continued.
"While Mr D'Aguilar's hyperbole and exaggeration might be good for newspaper headlines, Mr D’Aguilar should know that it is irresponsible in the extreme to portray his country in that light when everything that is available by evidence suggests that his version of the facts do not reflect reality."