While the proposals in the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, give individuals born to non-Bahamian parents greater incentive to apply for citizenship, there are still many barriers that exist to their often delayed applications, said activist Louby Georges.
The bill, which is still out for 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.
However, in a recent interview with The Guardian, Georges said that there is a “lack of leadership, lack of information and education” in these communities that contribute to non-Bahamian citizenship woes.
“We’re are not taught the rules, necessarily,” Georges said.
“Our constitution is not taught in our schools. So imagine persons whose parents [don’t] read the language.”
He continued, “Money isn’t always readily available also. One single parent’s birth certificate or the extract of that birth certificate from the national archives in Haiti could cost you in excess of somewhere around $400 to $500 and you would need both parents.
“You need to apply for a passport, let’s say at the Haitian embassy, that can run into another $200.
“And, so, finances, lack of information, it is real.”
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 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 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 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 legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother, while that person is still a minor.
While insisting that much of what the bill contains already exists as a matter of policy, Georges acknowledged that individuals born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents should be much more motivated to sort out their legal status.
“Outside of that one factor that incentivizes persons to go and apply, if not then you would now in law, be considered an undocumented individual or an illegal person, that is the new thing and that is going to push people to apply, which I like. I have no problem with that,” he said.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications