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IFSB CONFERENCE

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cialis generic sovaldi times;”>Fred Mitchell MP

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration

IFSB CONFERENCE

OUR LUCAYA

Freeport, Grand Bahama

 

6th February 2015

 

On Immigration

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

fm_mitchell_addressI thank you for this invitation to speak today on Immigration matters.

 

The Prime Minister of The Bahamas speaking in San Jose, Costa Rica at the annual summit of CELAC leaders had this to say in his opening statement:

 

“The Bahamas wishes also to have a focused and candid discussion on migration.  Our country suffers from the ill effects of irregular migration.  We think that within this forum, the issue ought to be addressed as to how all countries can take steps to curb irregular migration and how we can work together to stop it and to ensure where there is migration it is orderly lawful and safe.”

 

That is the remit of the Department of Immigration and we announced two policies in pursuance of that remit which came into effect on 1st November last year.  The first is that no applications for first time work permit holders will be accepted in this country from someone who does not have legal status without it being certified that the person has been seen by our consular office in his home country.  This was to send out a signal to people who think they can just hop on a boat and come to the Bahamas and a friendly employer will simply get you straight.  That should have stopped.

 

Secondly, everyone who is a non- national who does not have a passport should get one and they will have to have evidence either of a work permit or a residency permit to show they have a right to be in The Bahamas.  This applies even to people who were born here of non-Bahamian parents.  They are not by our laws citizens of The Bahamas.  The Certificate of Identity which was previously issued to people in that category will no longer be issued, save in fulfillment of our international obligations.

 

 

You will remember earlier that we announced that as of March of last year we were going to stop issuing permits for gardeners and maids.  That caused a slight uproar and not the popular support this present policy has.

 

However, it is a fact that unemployment can be seriously addressed if we stop doling out thousands of applications for live-in maids, maids, gardeners and labourers.  But many Bahamians, particularly those in the middle class say that that Bahamians don’t want to do those jobs and so it continues.

 

Remember that the principle is that work permits are only to be issued where there is no Bahamian available for the job.  Whether a Bahamian is available or not is a decision and function of the Ministry of Labour.

 

The philosophical basis of all that we do is the fact that migration is a natural state of mankind.  Mankind has been doing it for eons.  If you could not make it in the place where to you lived, you simply moved to another place.  Today, the only caveat is that the movement must be documented

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. This is for the safety and security of the nation state.

 

 

 

The Bahamas has an obligation to be sure that it knows who lives within its borders and that its territory is not being used as a staging point for unlawful activity that would destabilize its neighbours.

 

In addition, there is the concern that the cultural identity and integrity of the country is preserved.

 

We all know that The Bahamas does not have all the skills within its borders to perform all the jobs that are required here. That means labour has to be imported to make up the shortfall.  Secondly, we know that one of the important intangibles that we have to offer to the world is the right to live here.  This is simply a beautiful place to live.  We know that living here for reasons of climate, geography and finances makes The Bahamas an attractive place to be.

 

The question for the Department of Immigration, the Government more generally and our people is at what price point to extract the premium for the right to live here, in what numbers and under what circumstances.

 

financial_audienceMost advocates say that the offer to live here at a price, should stop at the level of permanent residence with the possible right to work, and that as presently priced, the right to live here as a permanent resident is underpriced and therefore undervalued.  Considerable work has already been done on rectifying this pricing structure as we speak and the question is when we can convince the exchequer and the wider government that this is a sensible direction within which to move.

 

The present $10,000 per year fee for permanent residence is considered too low.  While there has been some discussion in the civil society about economic citizenship, the idea has not found wide currency in the country and the government.

 

 

You heard from the new Financial Services and Trade Minister Hope Strachan this morning.  However, I believe that there is a new regime and pricing structure coming in the not too distant future with regard to the various products for residency in the financial services sector.

 

 

 

One vexing issue of course in dealing with the documented worker, is the issue of the efficiency with which this is all exercised.  The Department is keenly aware of the necessity to be timely and efficient and of the international competition in this area.  It does not have at present the equipment or the manpower to deal with the volume of requests, although the issue is being addressed.  The Association of Banks and Trusts Companies has offered some assistance in this area.

 

The regular migrants and their would- be employers complain of slow services by the Department.  In the two years that I have been on the job there has unfortunately been no appreciable change in the speed or efficiency with which the processing of applications has taken place, even as the application process has become more difficult with new rules.  This is not for lack of trying but there appears to be certain management cultural structural issues which defy rational thinking and attempts at change.

 

 

 

 

 

The issue is in part the lack of manpower and the lack of equipment and the lack of money.  We think that properly applied money, equipment and manpower can resolve these delivery issues but we have a long way to go. There is also a need for a cultural change.  The Gordian knot is that we believe that there is money to be found if only the pricing point to which I referred is adjusted to accurately reflect the cost of the service but there is slow acceptance in the wider society and in the bureaucracy that this is the answer.

 

We have received recently in this direction permission to increase the visa fees which now more accurately reflect the cost of the service with effect from 1st February.  That is the point to which we ought to get with regard to all government services.  The price ought to accurately reflect the cost of the delivery of the service.  You will then be able to fund all the inputs and there can be no excuse for the lack of timely and rational delivery of the product or service.

 

Indeed, one easy example is to be able to charge a premium for a rushed or emergency service. 

 

Today, sad to say if you pay your fees to get a work permit application it often takes six weeks before you have the actual work permit in your hands. We continue to struggle with management issues which are so far not easily solved.

 

 

 

I am working with the Department, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Financial Services to try to fix this issue.

 

It requires some attention to some wider issues that are not strictly your business but I share them anyway: first the change in the culture of how one decides government policy and how it is executed; the other is the improvement of the basic system of education to adequately prepare the work force for the jobs which are available in the work force. 

 

 

A Report in the Business Section of The Tribune on 19 January about poverty, the connection to the failure of getting an education and the skill set was an interesting article. It was based on a report by the Inter-American Development Bank and it said that people who are poor have a poor chance of getting a proper education.  Thus the need to fight poverty.  I am now lobbying within the government to consider implementing across the public administration a livable wage for our employees.  You have to ask yourself whether it is conscionable to pay a minimum wage of 210 dollars a week when it appears to many no one can live off 210 dollars per week in this country.

 

As a representative, I see the results of poverty, joblessness and hopelessness every week in my constituency office.  The minimum qualification for the government service is five BJCs: an 8th grade exam which you take when you are 14 years old. Yet, people who are perfectly capable and intelligent went through school and could not get five BJCs, the minimum qualifying standard of the public service– an eighth grade education.  Some could not take the exams because of lack of funds.  One woman told me her mother had to make a decision between herself and her brother.  The mother could only afford to pay for her brother and so she did not take the BJCs.  Her mother did not know that if you cannot afford to pay, the Government would have made it possible.  

 

There is a connection in my view between this missed education and the ability of the country to execute complex maneuvers and the inability to grasp the concepts which a sophisticated public administration requires. A good basic education is supposed to be provided to you and then you should easily pass the BJC and BGSCE exams.  That then equips you intellectually to deal with the complex concepts of managing your life and ultimately the national life.

 

I sympathize with the Minister of Education who is struggling with what we do to correct this.  Very valued work is being done in the National Training School as well.  The Education Minister is also implementing a national finishing exam for the school system.  Too many people today are falling through the cracks and do not have the skills to put them into productive work, leaving them angry and bitter at politicians and themselves.

 

Clearly, it has little to do with native intelligence but training and schooling.

 

Here where we are in Grand Bahama, special attention is being paid to what resources companies are committing to this training effort.

 

 

 

 

Let me summarize:

 

The Government is aware of the balance that needs to be struck between enforcement of laws and the welcoming nature that must be a part of the jurisdiction.

 

We are seeking now to work with the Financial Services sector on improving the range of products and the efficiency of the delivery of those products.

 

We are also working with the sector on adjusting the pricing points to more adequately reflect the value of what is being offered and to recoup the costs of providing a timely service.

 

Economic citizenship is not on the table but permanent residence on an accelerated business remains a product which we offer.

 

 

 

In a few months, we hope to attach conditions to the work permits which will say that if you get a work permit you also have to have health insurance for the worker and adequate housing so that no worker who comes to The Bahamas becomes a public charge.

 

 

There is a need for a national discussion on immigration matters, including citizenship. 

 

There is a need for a manpower study to be done and one is to be commissioned shortly to project out into the future the numbers for the immigration dept tripling its size within three years and what are the budgetary implications.

 

A decision is in the works by the Cabinet to order the next generation of equipment to improve dramatically passport, work permit, residency and citizenship applications, entry procedures at the border, the ability of different law enforcement agencies to talk to talk to one another; electronic entry at the gate in answer to the complaints of processing at the border at LPIA taking too long.

 

Schools will be asked come September for everyone in school to have a passport and evidence of a right to reside in The Bahamas.

 

 

There are major operations coming in Abaco within sixty days to help stem the tide of illegal migration there.

 

We need the help assistance and support of the public and thank them for the support which they have given us.

 

In this connection, I am seeking to establish a public affairs unit within the Department of Immigration.  Here again, there is a culture which has to change.  Too many times the answer has to come from the minister when the questions and issues which draw public’s attention should be routinely dealt with by an official of the Department.  My view is that the Department has nothing to hide and that all relevant facts, subject to national security and privacy issues ought to be available on request.

 

The Department gets from time to time some push back because Directors coming here for meetings have been delayed at the border.  We hope that efforts to address this have worked and I look to the feedback on this.

 

However, I want to add a word of caution and this is more in a local context than with visiting directors, the fact that someone is a home owner, or a director of a condominium association or an economic permanent resident does not give that person the right to work in that facility without a work permit.  The definition on gainfully employed is very widely defined and the law is being strictly enforced by the Department.

 

We have at the helm of the Financial Services Ministry a dynamic individual who will bring aplomb and energy to the job.  I think you have a good partner in Mrs. Hope Strachan.

 

If there is anything I can do to assist, please let me know.