mind times;”>The passage of the Tripartite Council Bill 2015; the midyear budget statement and the announcement of the finalists for a second mobile network license were the three big stories of the week in The Bahamas.
THIS WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
The Tripartite Council Bill 2015 was unanimously passed in the Lower House on Monday evening of this week. This new law institutionalizes broad based consultations on labour issues where the oversight Council will comprise representatives from the union, the employer and the government.
In other parliamentary news, the Senate will meet on Wednesday, 18th February at 10:00 a.m. for first and seconding readings of the Electricity and Tripartite Bills and debate will continue on Thursday, 19th Feb at 10:00 a.m. if necessary. Please tune in.
MITCHELL ANSWERS CRITICS ON IMMIGRATION
Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell used the House rule “Statement from Ministers” to set the record straight on media reports that he claimed were “replete with errors and untruths.” The media reports were related to the government’s latest administrative measures designed to strengthen its immigration policy.
But readers, allow me to digress just a bit. Some people continue to call these new measures “new laws” but they are not – they are simply measures the immigration law empowers the Minister (meaning the cabinet of The Bahamas) to take to strengthen the existing immigration laws in the national interest. The only new immigration law on permits to reside in this whole reform effort by the government now being contemplated and announced is an amendment bill to provide for a “Belonger’s Permit” for persons born in The Bahamas non Bahamian parents. This will allow those persons to obtain a status at a fraction of the cost that is now charged going from 1000 dollars now to 25 dollars plus a processing fee of 100 dollars. The status can also be given to anyone who is actually stateless and is born here to non-Bahamian parents.
The Member for Marco City raised the issue of the 2nd generation and beyond of Haitians whose parents were born in The Bahamas. He claimed that they do not have a claim on the citizenship of their ancestors. He described them as “undocumented Bahamians”. The Minister said that there is no such creature, either you are Bahamian or not. If someone is actually stateless, the Bahamas will honour its obligation in law to provide a status for that individual. Mr. Moss claimed that those who apply for registration as citizens of The Bahamas pursuant to Article 7 of the constitution ( at their 18th birthday and before their 19th birthday) are automatically Bahamians. The Minister indicated that this is not true. When applications are filed for citizenships between their 18th and 19th birthdays, approval is subject to the terms and conditions of the Bahamas Nationality Act and registration can be refused.
The complaint raised in various quarters about cost of the student permit is not a legal or constitutional issue even though attempts were made to somehow tie the two together
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. The issues raised are merely administrative details that the government has faced and resolved for decades. If an applicant is unable to pay for the service, the fee is simply waived so that the law can be carried out. Bahamian parents have complained for years that they cannot afford the registration fees for their children levied by the public school system (that include insurance for field trips), but none of their children were ever denied access to education, no not one.
While the government is busy trying to regularize the immigration status of these various categories of persons and bring some semblance of order to and control over our immigration situation, there are Bahamians who are misrepresenting the policy and injuring the international reputation of The Bahamas. The Minister therefore sought to set the record straight on Monday in the House.
Back to the minister’s statement: Contrary to the assertions made by the Nassau Institute, Mitchell maintained that “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.” There were also no new fees for expatriate workers in the private sector as the Nassau Institute claimed and no known work permit requirement in law for non-Bahamians to work in the public service were Mitchell’s rebuttal.
In responding to Fred Smith QC, the Minister told House members that he never mentioned student visas for children born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents, but that schools should ensure that the children have a student permit at a cost of $125. He further denied ever referring to persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents as stateless and that there is no such thing in law as a “citizen in waiting.”