Legislation to ease the plight of mixed-status families will not be tabled today as expected after MPs were “at odds” over the changes, a public meeting heard last night.
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, told the audience that his team was trying to strike the “delicate balance” between driving business and making sure Bermudians have opportunities.
Acknowledging the news would be “disappointing”, he explained: “We just left another meeting and I just had to call the Premier. I told the Premier that we will not table this Bill tomorrow.”
The announcement was met with applause and a cry of “Amen”.
Mr Caines added that the Bill, first expected to be tabled in July, was on the order paper for today’s sitting of the House of Assembly and members of the bipartisan immigration committee “met and met”.
He explained: “When we left the room tonight, there was no way that we could do it.”
About 150 people turned out for the public forum at the Berkeley Institute, where Collin Anderson, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of National Security, said the first two stages of comprehensive immigration reform included issues around the processing of work-permit applications.
The third phase was to consider changes to policy and the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956.
Mr Anderson said mixed-status families, where a parent has Bermudian status or a permanent resident’s certificate but a child or spouse of the individual has neither, stood out as an area with “tremendous consensus” in the community.
He explained that meant people who were born and raised in Bermuda, and had worked here, paid taxes and contributed to the island, could “find that at some point they’ve actually had to leave this country”.
The permanent secretary provided four example “problems” in which status differed between generations and even siblings.
For each, he indicated how legislation and subsequent amendments created various scenarios, and how the Government intended to make sure that status or a PRC could be provided to those affected.
He explained: ”This is what we are attempting to address throughout this presentation, those individuals that have no place.”
A plan to provide Bermudian status at birth to children born or adopted overseas to Bermudian parents was met with applause.
The legislation already allows for those individuals to secure status, but only after an administrative process that includes paperwork.
In another example, parents were PRC holders, but because of their children’s respective dates of birth, and various legislative changes, one sibling had status and another had neither status nor PRC.
Mr Anderson explained that the Government’s amendment Act would propose that the second sibling achieves status through their brother or sister.
In total, it was thought that about 1,000 people could be expected to take advantage of the various changes.
Mr Caines said that the troubled history around immigration had led to fear and an element of xenophobia.
He added: “But we have also to factor in that, based on where we are in the middle of the Atlantic, that we need guest workers in this country.”
The minister explained: “One of the challenges that we have, as a ministry, we have the responsibility of making sure that we keep commerce going in Bermuda, but at the same time, making sure that Bermudians have a place of primacy in their country and making sure that Bermudians are given opportunities.
“That is a delicate balance.”
Leah Scott, the deputy leader of the One Bermuda Alliance and a member of the committee, told the meeting her party was committed to working collaboratively with the Progressive Labour Party.
She added: “I think the biggest hesitation for all of us is for people who come to Bermuda and live and they live better than the people in Bermuda, and that’s not fair.
“No one should be able to enjoy our country better than we enjoy it.”
The panel also included PLP MPs Renée Ming and Christopher Famous, Ben Smith, an OBA MP, and William Madeiros, who chaired the Consultative Immigration Reform Working Group that was put together in 2016.