Under the government’s 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.
The government’s Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill 2018, now out for public consultation, proposes sweeping changes to the country’s immigration laws in an attempt to fix the long-standing problem of statelessness and the rights of Bahamians to pass on their citizenship.
Currently, Article 7 of The Bahamas 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 eighteen years or within twelve months thereafter to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas”.
The constitution is silent on what happens to these individuals before their 18th birthday, or after their 19th birthday.
Article 9 of the constitution states that a person born 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 silent on what happens before these people reach age 18 and after they reach age 21.
The new law would also establish that these people lose their constitutional right to be registered after their 21st birthday.
However, the new law establishes a “right of abode”, or 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 outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother, while that person is still a minor.
These minors would be able to apply for a resident belonger’s permit which could be approved by the immigration director, “provided that such an applicant is in the custody and care of a parent or guardian who has the right of abode in The Bahamas”.
For these people, the right of abode would grant them the right to legally work in The Bahamas, and reside in The Bahamas, up to the time they apply to be registered as citizens and while that application is being processed and/or appealed.
For those whose constitutionally mandated time to apply to be registered has expired, they would have six months from the passage of the new law to apply for some form of status, such as naturalization, permanent residency, etc., and would have the right of abode pending the determination and/or appeal.
Those who do not apply risk being imprisoned and deported.
“The continued residence in The Bahamas of any person who… fails to apply for other legal status under this act or who is refused such status, and has not appealed, or is not successful in his appeal, shall be unlawful and his right of abode shall cease at the expiration of six months following the commencement of this act…,” the draft bill states.
“Any such person who thereafter enters and remains in The Bahamas, or is thereafter found in The Bahamas commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to the penalty specified in section 72(1)(h) and may be liable to deportation.”
The penalty specified is a prison sentence of up to two years. The bill also broadens the reasons for refusal of citizenship.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill was drafted by the Law Reform Commission, headed by Dame Anita Allen.
The bill, which is 123 pages, would repeal the Bahamas Nationality Act and the Immigration Act.
It would also establish provisions for those seeking asylum in The Bahamas.
The bill also established more clearly who is allowed to land in The Bahamas and the power of immigration officers to grant permission to land and reside in The Bahamas.
The bill also more clearly defines who is a visitor to The Bahamas.
The bill would also remove the power of citizenship decisions from Cabinet by establishing an Immigration Board to be appointed by Cabinet.
Attorney General Carl Bethel said on Sunday that different social and political groups are being individually consulted on the bill, but it remains unclear how long the consultation period will last.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications