By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Hummingbird Association - a civic group for Jamaicans living in The Bahamas - has called for an “extenuating circumstances” clause to be included in the proposed Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill (NIAB) 2018, affording applicants for citizenship up to one full year to apply if the initial deadline is missed.
The recommendation came as a part of the association’s review of the proposed bill, with the group’s president, Hazel Burke, surmising the clause could prevent the denial of citizenship and the imminent deportation of a person to a country they are not familiar with.
The clause relates to section 7 of The Bahamas Nationality Act - one of two acts that will be repealed to give way to the NIAB 2018.
Ms Burke contended that upon proof of extenuating circumstances, an applicant should be afforded up to 12 months from the date they are mandated to apply, expires.
She said: “My point is simple, there are many circumstances that can leave a person unable to apply in the window. I don’t know, a person could be ill or away or in school or not financially able at the time.”
Ms Burke continued: “As it has been presented, the language is so definite and direct. It worries me because there’s so much that can go wrong and that leaves a person void of something so important.
“This law will have these people picked up and deported… I am of the view that persons should be given a chance to make this right… there should be some fail-safe thing in place to give them a chance to do the right thing.”
Ms Burke said while the laws of The Bahamas should be respected and adhere to, laws of this type should be worded to give room for situations where things go wrong and backup options are needed.
Additionally, she suggested, the relevant laws should mandate the granting of such citizenship be concluded within 12 months from the date of such application.
According to the constitution, children born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents are entitled to apply for Bahamian citizenship between the ages of 18 and 19. Under the proposed new law, those born in this country after July 9, 1973 to foreign parents – who failed to apply to be registered as citizens by the age of 19 – would lose that right. Persons in this category would have six months after the law is enacted to apply for legal status or risk being deported.
Additionally, children in this category will be given an opportunity to apply for a resident Belonger’s permit if they are in the custody and care of a parent or guardian who has the right to live in The Bahamas.
This classification of person will now have a right to legally live and work in The Bahamas up to the time they apply to be registered as a Bahamian citizen and while that application is being processed and/or appealed.
The NIAB will also look at addressing, through a clause, the granting of Bahamian citizenship to children born abroad to a married Bahamian mother and her non-Bahamian spouse; a point Ms Burke also noted.
Article 9 of the constitution states that a person in this category is not automatically granted citizenship, but has a right to apply from their 18th birthday to their 21st birthday, to be registered as a citizen.
The new law would also establish that these people lose their constitutional right to be registered after their 21st birthday.
In her review, Ms Burke noted that the Bahamian constitution affords equality to all. In line with that, she asserted that like their male counterparts, Bahamian women should be allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children whether she is married to a foreign man or not.
This issue was one of several rejected by voters in a constitutional referendum in 2016.
“I am a firm believer in equality and the same privileges being given to both sexes,” she said. “I think we should see this reflected in laws and government policies.”
Nonetheless, she said she was happy to see the clause included in the proposed new bill.
Ms Burke further suggested Bahamian women be given the right to pass on their nationality to their male spouse.
She said this option should be permitted only with proof of validity of marriage within no more than three years.
“The constitution affords equality to everyone. Therefore the Bahamian female, like her male counterpart, should be allowed to pass on her citizenship to her non-Bahamian husband. The bill failed to address this,” she said
The NIAB 2018 has been out for public consultation for three weeks.