By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill 2018 features expanded grounds for the refusal of citizenship under the constitution, and registration and naturalisation under the law to include terrorism, human and drug trafficking, as well as gang-related activities.
Activities that are against the interests of national security and public policy are also included as proposed grounds for refusal.
While existing clauses concerning the renunciation and deprivation of citizenship are re-enacted, it is now required to notify people who are being deprived, and mandates an inquiry be held before the decision is carried out. The bill specifies that deprivation of citizenship applies to people who have been naturalised under articles 7, 9 and 10 of the constitution. This includes people who were born in The Bahamas and applied to get citizenship because their parents were non-Bahamians; people who were born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian woman and applied to get citizenship; and foreigners who marry a Bahamian citizen and got citizenship through application.
The new bill also proposes to establish a new regime of appeals for the Immigration Department.
The bill was prepared by the Law Reform and Revision Commission, chaired by Dame Anita Allen, and was released for public consultation last month.
It proposes a National Advisory Commission - an 11-member body tasked with investigating, reviewing, and advising the minister on citizenship applications and a 15-member Immigration Board to replace Cabinet as the administrative body for the administration of matters concerning entry, residence, and occupation.
The new Immigration Board will be comprised of 12 Cabinet appointed members and three public officers. An Immigration Appeals Tribunal will be comprised of 18 people, and will possibly sit in six groups of three to hear appeals from the Immigration Board.
Decisions made by immigration officers are appealable to the immigration director, whose decisions are then appealable to the board, and then to the Appeals Tribunal.
The tribunal’s decisions and those of the minister will be appealable to the Supreme Court.It was noted by Dame Allen that the tribunal, while ambitious, will improve public perception of the department and make the process appear more transparent and fair.
As for the strengthening of the powers of immigration officers, the new bill creates offences for the failure to appear when summoned; failing to answer truthfully to questions asked by immigration officers; to produce false or misleading documents; and to otherwise knowingly mislead or attempt to mislead an immigration officer acting in the course of his duties. It also makes answers given during interrogation by immigration officers admissible in court, and places a duty on police and customs officers to assist immigration officers in administering the law.
The bill also seeks to empower the minister to grant citizenship to abandoned infants and stateless minors.
Another new feature is a 90-day time limit to take the oath of allegiance once informed that citizenship has been granted.
Failure to do so will result in the withdrawal of the citizenship offer.