Attorney General Carl Bethel.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MIGRANT storm victims who have lost their jobs as a result of Hurricane Dorian “need to go home” even if their work permits are not yet expired, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
His comments to The Tribune came after the Department of Immigration issued a statement specifying that prospective employers of storm victims that need work permits must prove their applicant has satisfactory living conditions, because if they don’t, they will be denied.
“If the employer is still paying them then they have a job, if not then they need to go home,” Mr Bethel told The Tribune. “The files will reflect who the business or homeowner applicant is. We will know if a job exists.”
According to the government’s 2018 shanty town report, 41 percent of Abaco residents in the areas were legal residents as a consequence of their work permit.
Meanwhile, in its statement, the Department of Immigration said: “The applicant for a new work permit, or the renewal of an existing work permit, by a prospective employer of a non-Bahamian worker, will be required to satisfy immigration officials that satisfactory living accommodations have been arranged by that employer on behalf of the prospective worker, and that the said worker will not become a charge on the state or be permitted to live in sub-standard housing. Any person found in The Bahamas in contravention of the immigration laws will be subject to arrest, criminal proceedings and, where applicable, detention and deportation.”
In keeping with a 2014 immigration policy put in place by the Christie administration, the department also said first time work permit applicants must be living in his or her home country when that application is made. The department’s stance will no doubt put pressure on hundreds of migrants stuck in limbo after Hurricane Dorian.
“The public is advised that non-nationals seeking employment in The Bahamas must be approved by the Immigration Department and that applications for the issuance of the first work permit will not be accepted or considered unless the individual is physically present and resident in his or her country of origin at the same time that the first application is made,” the Department of Immigration said.
“Further, the public is hereby reminded that work permits are non-transferable from employer to employer. Any transfer from one employer to another under a current permit may only be legally affected by a new application submitted by that new employer.”
The government’s announcement is likely to worry many who fled Abaco’s decimated shanty towns after the storm. At shelters, some evacuees have openly fretted about what their status means for their future. One man complained last month that he missed out on $5,000 from an Asue draw when the hurricane tore through the Mudd, money he planned to use to renew his work permit.
A middle-aged woman said she has lived in the country for more than 20 years and similarly lost her work permit renewal savings. Both people had an unexpired work permit but likely lost their job because of the storm. One man told this newspaper he was born in Abaco to Haitian parents and never visited Haiti but lacked a Belonger’s permit to reside in the Bahamas.
Some public figures have called on the government to give some temporary status to migrants displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Across social media and throughout the country, however, many Bahamians have reacted angrily to such suggestions.
On September 23, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told The Tribune that undocumented immigrants affected by Hurricane Dorian face no protections and will be subject to the country’s laws of apprehension and deportation.
That same day, Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said undocumented immigrants must ensure that they have at least applied for legal status in order to escape deportation.
“Now that we are in the restoration and rebuilding phase, we are enforcing our laws,” Mr Johnson told The Tribune last week. “Dorian did not give persons amnesty. If you were without status before the storm, you remain without proper status after the storm. If you don’t have your stuff, look at what the law requires. The laws will be applied in a way that maintains the dignity of people. We are in the rebuilding phase in Abaco and businesses must also ensure that the persons they hire are legal.”