By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE revelation that the Minnis administration is actively exploring an “entirely new” immigration law was yesterday welcomed and applauded by attorney Fred Smith, QC, who offered several points for consideration and inclusion.
In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Smith - whose law firm represents scores of persons who have filed court action over immigration issues - said if the government follows through with plans to change the Immigration Act, it would signal a move in the right direction.
Mr Smith, who has clashed with successive administrations on various immigration policies, said the country’s laws need amending to reflect the modern issues challenging migrants, refugees, government and society.
“I welcome immigration law reform so that what happens is not a matter of corrupt favour but of black and white process which is transparent, accountable and humane,” he said.
Asked what changes should be implemented, Mr Smith said he was of the view the government should provide, by law, a process to appeal any refusals to approve permits or any other regularisation document.
He added the process for renewing permits must be amended so that people can stay in the country while their renewal application is being processed, prohibiting them from being deemed “illegal” for over-staying during the process.
His recommendations also called for a statutory provision for refugee status applications and a process for people who are already in the country to apply for work permits, such as spouses of work permit holders or people born in the Bahamas who do not yet have their citizenship certificate.
Of the latter, Mr Smith said the current requirement for people to leave the country when applying for a permit causes a lot of expense and disruption in the lives of people who may, eventually, be approved.
“(There should be) timelines for considering application; simplifying some of the forms for short-term and long-term permits and (a process) that provides a status for people going in the Bahamas to non-citizen parents until applications are considered,” he said.
“Making the Immigration Board non-political so that it can perform its duties in a transparent, accountable and regular time.
“(Officials should be made to provide) reporting requirements for the public so that people will understand and know what is happening in immigration so that thinkers, social planners, civil servants and investors can have an appreciation for the facts. This is not novel, immigration in years past long ago used to publish annual reports like the police or every other government department.
“(There should be) an immigration complaints court so that people who are abused can seek relief from that board.”
He added: “(There must be a) simplification of the form and process for people just simply registering to be entitled to a certificate of citizenship under Article 7 of the Constitution.”
Mr Smith said the government should consider using immigration as a tool of development and called on the Minnis administration to set out clear guidelines for the requirements of everything in the law to make the process simple for Bahamians who wish to employ non-citizens, or non-citizens who wish to apply for permits.
Immigration Minister Brent Symonette last Thursday said the government is exploring a new immigration policy that could impact the way the Bahamas processes people who were born and have lived in the country, but are not entitled to citizenship.
Mr Symonette said any changes made would also look to finally address those people born in the Bahamas to foreign parents, who have never resided anywhere else.
The current policy specifies that such people are allowed to apply for citizenship at the age of 18, but doesn’t specify what happens to them if they don’t - such is reportedly the case with Jean Rony Jean-Charles.
Mr Jean-Charles was apprehended and deported to Haiti late last year, despite being born in the Bahamas. He did not apply for Bahamian citizenship. Mr Smith filed a habeas corpus action on his behalf, and the Supreme Court ordered the government to issue him a travel document and grant him legal status upon application.
The government appealed the decision and an emergency stay was granted as Mr Jean-Charles was mid-air, returning to the Bahamas. He was detained again upon landing in the Bahamas but has since been released while the matter is still before the courts.