The government will ensure that all views are considered during the consultation period of the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.
The bill, which was released for public consultation in February, 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.
“I think that it’s essential that we send the draft out to get each citizen’s input, [each] organization’s input, so that we can have a comprehensive legislation moving forward, so that we can deal with the issue with citizens, residents etc,” said Minnis, following a signing ceremony for two Inter-American Development Bank loans at the Melia Nassau Beach resort.
“I think, in a modern and transparent society, it’s essential that the citizens have their input because at the end of it you will have less friction in passing such a legislation.”
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.
Some human rights activists have taken issue with this ultimatum in the bill, while others see it as a greater incentive for individuals born to non-Bahamian parents to apply for citizenship.
President of the League of Haitian Pastors Dr. Jean Paul Charles has said that he would like to see an extension of the timeline to register for status after the law takes effect.
Minnis noted yesterday that, “We are listening to all of the individuals who have their say and their input. We will compile them all together and we will make the best decision in the best interest of the Bahamian citizens.”
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 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.
In November 2017, Minnis announced that the government intended to amend the law to ensure that all children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian women automatically receive Bahamian citizenship.
Yesterday, he once again promised that this commitment will be met.
“As I’ve said, we are looking at all the entities, but we know what had happened in the referendum,” Minnis said.
“I think we need to correct those issues and those are matters we have said that we will look at, we will correct. We made the commitment, we will do it.”
It still remains unclear how long the consultation period will last.