Bahamas explains new immigration policy

Amid concern over the Bahamas’ new immigration policy, Foreign Affairs Minister Frederick Mitchell on Tuesday sought to explain his country’s position before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS).

According to the OAS, Mitchell highlighted first the recognition and reputation of his country as a destination for investors and tourists.

“Thousands of business people and non-Bahamian residents live in our country because it has a stellar reputation as a safe place for investment and wealth management: a well regulated, transparent jurisdiction, what we know, however, is that we must be eternally vigilant in protecting our reputation: correcting untruths and misperceptions,” he said.

In this regard, Mitchell said that his presence at the OAS “seeks to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the rule of law, due process, the international treaties on migration and all the instruments to which we adhere in the inter-American system.”

In this context, Minister Mitchell explained the details of the publication of two administrative measures that went into effect on November 1 in his country, concerning work permits for non-citizens of the Bahamas.

“Work permit applications would not be accepted for those people who did not have legal status in The Bahamas without them first being certified as being seen by one of our consular officers in their home country or in the nearest office to their home country,” he said.

The legislation also requires that non-nationals have a passport of their nationality to obtain a residence permit.

The OAS said presentation included the details of the debates prior to the adoption of changes in immigration policy, including the internal discussions and consultations with international organizations and the Haitian government to ensure that nationals of that country could meet the demands stipulated under the new policy.

Mitchell emphasized “the transparency of measures and actions of government agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcing immigration laws,” according to the OAS.

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is invited, along with the Organization of American States to come at any time and inspect our procedures and facilities and see whether what we are saying is correct,” he said.

In explaining the reasons that led to the adoption of immigration measures, the foreign affairs minister said the new policies seek to stop illegal immigration.

“Unfortunately for many, they chose not at birth to get the passport of their nationality and live in a kind of no man’s land until they reach their 18th birthday, the new procedures will mean that so long as your parents are lawfully in The Bahamas, anyone who is born in The Bahamas can get a residency permit to work and live in The Bahamas until such time as their citizenship applications are determined,” he said. “This puts all in that class in a better position.”

“This policy, therefore, is not to revoke citizenship to any person, nor are anyone’s rights being eliminated ‘ex post facto’. It seeks to ensure that the rights of people are being protected,” he insisted.

The Bahamian politician also referred to the financial and social consequences of irregular migration in the region, and stressed that countries must work together to solve the deeper problems related to this topic, including poverty, underdevelopment and political instability.

“The Bahamas comes today to set the record straight and we trust that we have disabused all countries of the notion that anything untoward is happening with the issues of migrants; we will continue to manage the problem consistent with our international obligations and with our laws,” Mitchell said.

He said that contemporary migration is “a complex phenomenon” and that its regulation “involves considering the interests and peculiarities of the countries of origin and destination.”

In that context, he said that the OAS has a key role to play in helping member states to promulgate policies that enhance the natural synergies between migration and development, diminishing excess from regular and irregular migration that places a drag on countries’ development.”

“All of the OAS pillars are relevant to meeting the negative challenges associated with hemispheric migration, however assistance in the areas of democracy, human rights and citizen security all help states continue to work in a holistic manner to resolve issues that might spur migration beyond the search for job opportunity or educational advancement prospects,” Mitchell added.

At the meeting, which was chaired by the Permanent Representative of Guyana to the OAS, Ambassador Bayney R. Karran, the representatives of Haiti, Jamaica and St. Lucia also took the floor.

In his introduction to the Council’s meeting, the OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin said The Bahamas “is a valuable member of the OAS and plays a critical role in the discussions of major issues on the hemispheric agenda,” and that Mitchell’s visit is important as a way to “open up a broader and deeper discussion on the issue of migration based on the work the organization is already doing.”

Ramdin also said that the institution is willing to work with the Caribbean country on what the government requires.

“We understand the concerns and the need to clarify some of the issues that have been raised after the announcement of changes in migration policies,” he said, adding that “the OAS will always be a channel through which many of these issues can be addressed.”