Rethink Immigration Reform
It has become common fodder for discussion and debate ever since the minister of foreign affairs and immigration announced changes and reforms in the immigration policies of the gold rush administration. The minister stated that in about one year’s time his administration would not be issuing any additional work permits for housekeepers, maids and gardeners.
How profound. How marvelous. I am, of course, being facetious. That change in policy really means nothing as a majority of parliamentarians, high-ranking civil servants and business professionals already have their foreign housekeepers, maids and gardeners. So what real difference will this bogus change in policy make?
Bahamians by and large, certainly those who live here in New Providence, are not into residential domestic work, much less the garden care business. The pay is perceived as being too small and the work too hard. In addition, many Bahamian homeowners simply do not trust fellow Bahamians to work in their homes or to care for their children. It is what it is.
The reforms should be ushered in areas of the white collar professions such as banking and tourism where the real high-paying job opportunities are to be found. The PLP and its leadership are pandering for political purposes. They still, after almost 40 years of independence, appear to want to relegate the average Bahamians to being hewers of wood and domestic laborers. As it was then, so it is now.
Successive administrations, inclusive of this one, have bragged about how much revenue was being raised from work permit fees, while tens of thousands of indigenous Bahamians, not the paper ones, are out of work. Now the gold rush crew is saying that only Bahamian housekeepers, maids and gardeners need apply.
Restrictions on work permits should be across the board, but pragmatism and common sense must be applied. No sensible politician or civil servant can expect to entice a deep-pocketed individual or business to come into The Bahamas to do business and not wish to bring in his/her own experts relative to the business or project at hand. By the same token, a mentoring program must be insisted upon whereby Bahamians are able to be identified and trained to eventually replace the foreign element. Successive administrations have failed or even refused to insist upon this simple formula either for political reasons or the absence of the will power to do so.
Often times we are able to see the dominance of our homegrown politicians by foreign influence. Our prime ministers, to date, have all been lawyers, who while in opposition would have regularly represented or lobbied on behalf of foreign individuals and corporations. Once in office, some of those same individuals and corporations apply to the same person for various approvals and permits.
I am not for one minute suggesting or implying that special consideration is extended in those cases, but perception and reality are often blurred and may be cause for concern. Our politicians by and large are honorable individuals, but ordinary Bahamians are hardpressed to understand why it appears that kisses often go by favor.
While some in the gold rush claim that the position stated by its minister of foreign affairs and immigration is not written in stone but was thrown out merely to generate debate, no one seems to be talking about real immigration reforms. We have tens of thousands of individuals who were born in this country to foreign-born parents, illegal and illegal.
Many of them are entitled to apply for citizenship at age 18 years. In reality, however, few of them are granted citizenship while the countless thousands are forced to remain in limbo for decades if not for the rest of their lives. Clearly this is wrong from a humanitarian and Christian perspective.
The path to citizenship and regularization must be addressed during this great debate and not restricted merely to domestic workers, landscapers and other menial categories of employment. Don’t get me wrong, all work bestows dignity; but let’s face it, few Bahamians, especially those who would have graduated from high school or college, care to engage in those areas. Persons who are eligible under the Constitution to citizenship should be granted the same.
I suggest that an amnesty period be declared for unregulated foreign-born persons to come forward. After the expiration of the same, a draconian round-up exercise should be implemented and forced repatriation instituted across the board.
Persons who come forward voluntarily should be offered permanent residency with the right to work. Eventually, a sensible and dedicated path to citizenship should be laid out. I’d suggest that after a five-year period and an opportunity to learn our culture and core values, citizenship should be granted.
To continue to bury our collective heads in the sand is not conducive to nation building and a stable society.
To God then, who said to beware of the stranger in your midst, in all things, be the glory.
By: Ortland H. Bodie Jr.employment, government, immigration, PLP, xenophobia