Minister of Immigration and Financial Services Brent Symonette.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ONE thousand and thirty-six immigrants, including 954 from Haiti, were repatriated from January to May this year, Minister of Immigration and Financial Services Brent Symonette said during his budget speech on Tuesday night.
He said $1.2m has been budgeted in the next fiscal year for repatriation exercises. Making this adequate will be a challenge given the number of deportations that may be required.
The Minnis administration has said it will build a detention centre on Inagua, a major entry point for undocumented immigrants, so people can be repatriated from that island rather than be brought to New Providence. The budget for the next fiscal year does not include provisions for constructing this centre, Mr Symonette noted.
Mr Symonette also said the best, if imprecise, information from his ministry indicates 13,032 permits were approved from July 2017 to May. These includes homeowner's cards, permanent residency permits, permits to reside, residency spouse permits and work visas. It does not include short-term permits.
Highlighting numbers of some of the categories, he said permanent residency approvals were granted to 2,481 people: 1,012 residency spousal permits were granted and 9,095 work visas were granted.
Work visas have been approved for 417 Canadians, 199 Brazilians, 128 Swiss people, 149 Colombians, 105 Cubans, 258 Dominicans, 5,064 Haitians, 1,013 Americans, 191 Guyanese, 107 French and 360 English. He said 515 visas have been approved for Chinese nationals, although this number does not include those who work at The Pointe or Baha Mar.
Mr Symonette stressed the administration's commitment to joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and sought to dispel concerns from some that doing so will limit the country's ability to halt the inward movement of foreigners to the country.
"The WTO does not deal with immigration matters," he said. "There's no free movement of labour of Caribbean nationals in The Bahamas and the WTO will not just set up on Bay Street just like that. There will be no movement of people seeking permanent residency. Admittedly they allow temporary residency of foreign service providers to perform services that are liberalised under the WTO application but the government of The Bahamas will still be empowered to determine the conditions under which persons enter the country so we got to put that one to bed."
The government hopes to accede to the WTO by December 2019.