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Aguiar: let’s talk about Bermuda status

  • Talking time: Ashley Aguiar (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A young woman fined for doing unpaid work as a schoolgirl said last night she hoped the incident would inspire changes to immigration law.

Ashley Aguiar, 22, who was born and brought up in Bermuda, said she was pleased the $5,000 fine for working without a permit was quashed by the Supreme Court.

Ms Aguiar added: “I think this whole situation is an opportunity to talk about this issue.

“Something needs to come out of it because people are being put in this situation and I don’t think it’s fair.”

The Chief Immigration Officer fined Ms Aguiar $5,000 in 2017 for working without a permit at Tranquil Hair and Beauty in the town of St George.

But Chief Justice Narinder Hargun found that Ms Aguiar did not break the law because she was never paid and was there only to learn the trade.

Ms Aguiar said her time at the salon began through an internship made possible by the Berkeley Institute.

But an anonymous complaint was lodged against her on the basis that she did not have a work permit. She explained that her father has Permananent Resident’s Certificate B status, which meant she could not inherit Bermuda status from him.

Ms Aguiar is considered a Portuguese citizen, even though she has only ever visited the country on holiday.

Ms Aguiar said she was interviewed for “hours” after the complaint was made, but the fine was not imposed until more than two years later.

She added: “Nothing was done for more than two years, then it just popped back up.

“I had even called in the meantime to follow up on the situation. I wanted to put in my work-permit papers.”

Ms Aguiar said she was stunned by the $5,000 fine, especially as her work experience was unpaid.

She added her immigration position continued to be a problem, even after her victory in the courts.

Ms Aguiar said: “I still cannot do anything. I can’t even leave Bermuda if I wanted to because even though I have put in for re-entry permission since I was 19 I haven’t received it.”

The story of the successful appeal, published in The Royal Gazette on Tuesday, sparked fierce debate on the island’s immigration system.

Many social-media commenters said they supported Ms Aguiar.

Derek Jones wrote: “The law says if you’re not getting paid, it’s schooling. You can walk up to a chef and ask him or her to teach you how to cook.

“You can then take those skills and donate your time to go make dinner for a bunch of elderly people at Agape House to practise your skills. Afterward you can then go off to college and pick up a job working in a kitchen to help pay the school fees.

“All you have to do is ask someone if they’ll invest some time in you. Nothing illegal about that. Bermuda needs more internships and people willing to learn the skilled trades.”

Kamathi Warner, however, objected to the court’s decision.

He said: “What happens to persons who have Bermuda status by birth who can’t get these types of hookups or even any job?

“We’re lazy etc ... Stop usurping the role of the legislature, Supreme Court.”

Mr Warner later started another Facebook post, which claimed he wanted advice on how to work in Portugal.

Other posters pointed out that, as a British and EU citizen, he had an automatic right to live and work in Portugal without restriction and could acquire citizenship after just six years.

Sarah Lorimer Turner said that people without Bermuda status needed a letter of permission to do unpaid volunteer work for charities.

Linda Brown said that the policy was “dumb”.

She added: “How about all the walkers/runners raising money for Bermudians? If we start asking everyone for a letter who will police all that? This is like PC-ness going too far.”

Christopher Broadhurst said the story had highlighted a major immigration problem.

He said: “The bigger tragedy is that Ashley was born and raised here and apparently still can’t call Bermuda her home — after 22 years.”

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