Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Elsworth Johnson said yesterday the government is reviewing the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill – newly proposed legislation that if passed could spark changes to the country’s immigration laws.
Speaking to reporters outside Cabinet, the minister said once the final assessments have been made the Bill will then be tabled in the House of Assembly for debate.
However, he did not give a timeline as to when the review will be concluded nor when the bill will be presented to Parliament.
He said: “Well, what we’re doing now is we’re feverishly going through the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. As a matter of fact, I spoke to the Attorney General and so we’re trying to wrap that up so we can come to the completion and have that bill laid in the House.
“… We’re working hard to complete that process so that women are able to pass on their citizenship and it represents a lot of things in that bill. So, if you don’t make an application within the required time, then something else will happen. You may be able to get another designation.
“But I want to commend Dame (Anita) Allen and the drafting department for all that they have done and we’re properly considering every suggestion that’s been made and very shortly, I will be able to say to the Prime Minister – and Mr Brent Symonette in what he has done in pushing this – I will be able to say that we can have a debate.”
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, which was drafted by the Law Reform Commission, aims to replace the Bahamas Nationality Act and Immigration Act.
The proposed legislation proposes to address the longstanding problem of statelessness in the country and the issue on whether Bahamian women will have the right to pass on citizenship.
Provisions under the bill will allow for individuals — born outside of the Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and born inside the Bahamas to two non-Bahamian parents — the “right of abode” or the right to live in the Bahamas while a minor, up to the age of 18.
Regarding those children born to two non-Bahamian parents, they 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.
Additionally, this classification of person will also 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 new bill will also establish that these people lose their constitutional right to be registered as Bahamians after their 21st birthday. Those whose time to apply to be registered had already expired, would be given six months from the date on the bill’s passage to apply for some form of status — naturalisation, permanent residency, etcetera — or face jail time or deportation.
The bill has drawn commentary from both the political and civic arenas, with many calling for a change to the status quo on how citizenship is granted in The Bahamas.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson maintained that anyone entitled to the right of Bahamian citizenship will get it. This as he urged applicants to be genuine and sincere in their reasons for applying.
“You really want Bahamian citizenship and what I want to say to people is that it’s a right. Once you’re entitled to it, you will get it but you don’t use it as an opportunity or a fallback,” he stressed to reporters yesterday.
“I’m finding too many people who don’t intend to live in this country who are away and are attempting to send back to get citizenship in case it doesn’t work out where they are…. (but) where persons genuinely make applications and may want to live, work and be loyal, be patriotic and be committed to this country, you’re going to get it.”
“In too many cases I find that people just see The Bahamas as an opportunity. Where we are now, we need committed loyal persons who are prepared to build and I have the political maturity to say like Sir Lynden, like Sir Cecil and a number of persons who came before who gave that sacrifice – we want those type of people in The Bahamas”.