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House Statement by Immigration Minister and Member for Fox Hill, Hon. Fred Mitchell

Communication
By Fred Mitchell MP
Minister for Immigration
House of Assembly
Nassau
9th February 2015

Mr. Speaker,

The press in The Bahamas have published two articles, one by Fred Smith Q C and the other by the Nassau Institute. Both statements published information which should not go unanswered lest the public accept the information therein as true and correct. They purport to describe the law and policies in The Bahamas as it relates to immigration. They go on to make assertions based on their statements of law which are incorrect.

The statements published by Fred Smith Q C on 3rd February in The Tribune and by the Nassau Institute in the Nassau Guardian on 6th February are replete with errors and untruths.

The Nassau Institute claims that the Immigration Department is implementing a revised policy to grant permits and charge fees for children born here to go to school.

That is false. No new fees are being introduced for immigration fees and there is no new policy as it relates to permission for non-nationals to go to school in The Bahamas. The fee remains the 100 dollars processing fee and 25 dollars for the issuance of the permit. The fee and the requirement for such a permit has not changed since the PLP took office in 2012.

The Institute also said: “The Department of Immigration recently raised work permit taxes for expatriate workers ( mainly professionals) to work in the private sector…”

That too is false. No news fees have been introduced for work permits since the PLP came to office in 2012.

The Nassau Institute also said: “ Work permits for foreigners to work for the government are issued without hesitation at the stroke of a pen…”

That too is false. There is no requirement in law for the employees of the government who are non-nationals to have a work permit.

The article also keeps speaking about people born in The Bahamas who they claim are left stateless. Stateless means that the children have no citizenship. With regard to the children of Haitians, the Haitian government has indicated that all children of Haitian citizens wherever born are Haitian at birth. So if that claim is being made with regard to those children, that too is false.

The Nassau Institute says that “ the inherent danger is when Immigration laws are subject to the whim of the minister, Fred Mitchell in this instance, instead of impartial law. The unintended consequences might be many as they are varied.”

Mr. Speaker, all laws are administered by some authority. They do not exist and apply themselves without human hands. The decisions of the Minster for Immigration are quasi- judicial and are not exercised according to whim but in accordance with known and established polices. The principle is that work permits are issued only in circumstances where Bahamians are not available for the jobs and the question of whether a Bahamian is or is not available for a job is certified and monitored by the Department of Labour. There is no whim of the Minister exercised in this matter.

Fred Smith Q C wrote the following:

“ [ The Minister] failed to identify any section of the Immigration or Education Act which makes the “ new Visa Rules” under the “ New Immigration Education Policy” lawful.

“The New Rules require children born in The Bahamas of foreign parents to get a student visa. In addition, the new November documentation policy is not sanctioned by any law either.”

With regard to children born to non-Bahamian parents, Mr. Smith wrote: “At 18, they are entitled to receive a Certificate of Registration as a citizen. Before then, they are “Citizens in Waiting”. They are not “stateless” as Fred Mitchell suggests…

Mr. Smith also says of the requirement for a permit to reside for children who are non-national: “The new immigration student visa policy conflicts with the Education Act… Minister Mitchell is acting ultra vires the Immigration Act, the Education Act and the Constitution.”

Mr. Speaker let me first repeat what I said at the Business Outlook Seminar on 29th January:

New rules are going to be introduced. For example, all schools will be asked to be sure that any foreign national in a Bahamian school has a student permit to be in The Bahamas as of the opening of the fall term. The annual permit costs 25 dollars with a 100 dollar processing fee and every non-national should have one, including those born here to non-national parents.

I said nothing about a student visa.

Secondly, I have never ever said or suggested that children born to non- Bahamian parents in The Bahamas are stateless. If Mr. Smith is referring to the children of Haitians born in The Bahamas, the government of Haiti has affirmed that the children of Haitians born anywhere are Haitian at birth so they are not stateless.

There is no such thing in law as a “citizen in waiting”. You are either a citizen or not.

The allegation that the new policies are ultra vires the constitution and the Immigration and Education Acts is false.

The Immigration Act requires all non- nationals in the country to have a landed status. While the constitution does provide a right to apply to be registered as a citizen at age 18 and before the19th birthday to non-nationals born here, it confers no immigration status on them. Because they are not citizens of The Bahamas, they must have an immigration status.

That means their parents should apply for them to get a permit to reside. Permits to reside cost 25 dollars with a processing fee of 100 dollars.

Thousands of children hold them in this country today. This is not a new requirement. That is the existing law and all non-nationals in the country are expected to comply with the law. Most are complying.

The Department has obtained an opinion from the Attorney General’s office on this matter. We have been advised that the policies of the Department are in compliance with the constitution and all applicable laws of The Bahamas.

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