New twist to citizenship

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Immigration Minister, Brent Symonette.

The country’s immigration laws are being “overhauled” according to Minister of Immigration and Financial Services Brent Symonette, who described the changes as long overdue.

During his contribution to the mid-year budget debate in the House of Assembly (HOA) Monday, Symonette said, the government will finally address persons born in The Bahamas to illegal parents who have not applied for citizenship before their 20th birthday.

“What I am going to propose after this order is finished, and will suggest to my Cabinet, is that we need to establish rules that deal with children born outside The Bahamas to married Bahamian women and a foreign spouse, children born to a single Bahamian male,” Symonette said.

“But the more important issue going forward is with persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents. These persons who fail to apply after the age of 19, unless other circumstances entitled them to, will only be granted permanent residency with the right to work and not citizenship.

“Make sure we have this clear – persons born in The Bahamas, lived here all their lives, and apply before 19 can be granted citizenship but those who did not apply between 18 and 19 will be considered for permanent residency where applicable.”

Last month, Attorney General Carl Bethel foreshadowed the government’s amendments to the Immigration Act, after the case of Jean Rony Jean Charles exposed serious loopholes in the country’s current laws.

Jean-Charles, who was born in The Bahamas to illegal Haitian parents, did not apply for citizenship between the age of 18 and 19 as mandated by law, and was deported at age 34 after being held at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre for three months.

He was then brought back to The Bahamas after Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton ruled that Jean Rony’s constitutional rights were breached.

Symonette also said there are drafts currently before Cabinet that deal with “the whole question of harboring illegal immigrants, increasing the fines and the question of employing persons who are here illegally.”