NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Up to 1,000 persons have been granted Bahamian citizenship or permanent residency, since the government established the Independent Immigration Commission back in 2018.
The figures were revealed in parliament last week by Immigration Minister Brent Symonette during his contribution to the 2019/2020 Budget Debate.
“These are persons who applied between the ages of 18 – 19. We approved 201 the other day…so we are probably up to some 750 – 1000 persons [that] we have approved,” Symonette revealed.
Symonette, while holding a 28-page log of names of persons who have applied for citizenship, said his ministry now remains challenged with finding persons who submitted applications for approval.
While acknowledging that there are some shortfalls, Symonette refuted the claims of persons who said they had been waiting more than 40 years for some sort of status to reside in the country.
“I have had people calling me at home to try and get citizenship and using every avenue, so if you say you have been here 40 years I find that hard to believe…because many of these persons we simply cannot find,” Symonette said. “This is about 1,000 names of persons who have contacted me with 569 of them we cannot find. We have put adds in the newspaper and persons are only trickling through.”
He added that government also intends to table the controversial Immigration Bill currently out for public consultation by the end of the summer.
The Bill proposes widespread changes to the current immigration laws in an attempt what many have considered to be a vexing problem of statelessness and the rights of Bahamians to pass on their citizenship.
Under the proposed new immigration laws, those who were born in The Bahamas after July 9, 1973 to parents who were not Bahamian, and failed to apply to be registered as citizens by their 19th birthday, would lose that right and would have six months after the law takes effect, to apply for some form of status or risk being deported.
Currently, Article 7 of the Constitution states that a person born in The Bahamas after independence, “neither of whose parents is a citizen of The Bahamas shall be entitled, upon making application on his attaining the age of 18 years or within 12 months thereafter to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas”.
The Constitution does not prescribe what happens to these individuals before their 18th birthday, or after their 19th birthday.
Additionally, Article 9 of the constitution states that a person born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother is not automatically granted citizenship, but has a right to apply from their 18th birthday to their 21st birthday, to be registered as a citizen.
The Constitution is also does not clearly state what happens before these people reach age 18 and after they reach age 21.
Under the new law these people would lose their constitutional right to be registered after their 21st birthday. It does however establish a right to live in The Bahamas for anyone born in The Bahamas to foreign parents while they are a minor – before they reach age 18.
It also establishes a right to live in The Bahamas for anyone born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother, while that person is still a minor.
Symonette said while many may not agree, he hopes to have an open and frank discussion on the proposed changes.
“You might have your own views on it, but that is why I attempted to draw up the Immigration Bill, which is being circulated at the moment please read it,” he said.” “It is my intent that by the end of the summer we will lay that Bill in parliament for discussion. There are some provisions many may not agree with, but let us have an open and full discussion on it to move this process along.”