I write to comment on sentiments expressed by Wentworth Christopher in his Letter to the Editor, which echoes the same point that I have heard repeated by many — that Bermuda’s immigration laws historically operated to penalise black people and favour Portuguese migrants.
This narrative is wheeled out from time to time to justify denying status to Portuguese long-term and natural-born residents. Similar sentiments were made by the Premier in his address to the Progressive Labour Party delegates conference. Because of the severe impact of this narrative on those human beings who happen to have Portuguese names today, I would like to fill in some of the details that are often left out.
Until the 1950s, any migrant to Bermuda from the Commonwealth, which includes the English-speaking Caribbean, was treated as Bermudian after a mere seven years of residence. Furthermore, before 1937, there were few if any restrictions on people from other parts of the British Empire moving to Bermuda to live and work. Many Bermudians are descended from Caribbean immigrants who were able to move to Bermuda for a better life between emancipation and the 1950s.
The same did not apply to Azoreans, as Portugal was not part of the Commonwealth. Non-Commonwealth citizens, known as “aliens”, had to go through a complicated naturalisation process to be treated as Bermudians. There were also tighter restrictions on Azoreans bringing their family members to Bermuda than other nationalities, making it harder for them to settle and raise families. If Azoreans had not faced these discriminatory challenges, today’s Bermuda would likely be more Lusitanic — a term for people who share a Portuguese heritage — than it is at present.
This is an important detail to bear in mind. Whether by coincidence or design, the goalposts of Bermuda’s immigration laws have shifted over time, with disproportionate impact on the Portuguese community. This continues to this day. For example, the pathway to status for people who had grown up in Bermuda lapsed in 2008, and the permanent resident’s certificate pathway for long-term residents lapsed in 2010. The PLP’s replacement scheme of Job Makers’ PRCs in 2012 was limited to senior business executives and their families.
So, once again, the bulk of non-Bermudian residents of Portuguese descent find themselves among the excluded. There are people who were born in Bermuda who have now had children of their own born here, and still cannot get status or PRC.
Although solutions such as naturalisation exist for non-Bermudians who have grown up in Bermuda, these are not straightforward to learn about, and fall short of full Bermudian status. Many end up joining the exodus of Portuguese families that has been going on since the 1990s.
During the recent Portuguese holiday, many Bermudians will have enjoyed eating their malasadas, but the thought of resolving Bermudian status for what has become two generations of Portuguese families born and raised in Bermuda has, thus far, been too much to swallow.