Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette said yesterday the proposed Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, is not ready for public consultation and was released prematurely.
The bill was was posted on the Office of the Attorney General’s website on February 21.
“The new immigration bill is not out for consultation yet but unfortunately was put up on the AG’s website,” Symonette told reporters outside Cabinet.
“I have not finished my review of it yet with Dame Anita Allen; when I have, I will make comment on it and put it out.
“The premature release of it has resulted in some comments of which have been noted, but that was the idea of the consultation, that the bill would be prepared, it would be presented like I did the arbitration bill and go out for wide consultation and come back after possibly the summer break and take another look at it.
“Unfortunately it [got] up on the AG’s website prematurely.”
The bill was drafted by the Law Reform Commission, headed by Dame Anita Allen.
It 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.
The bill would repeal the Bahamas Nationality Act and the Immigration Act.
It would also establish provisions for those seeking asylum in The Bahamas.
It would also establish 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, and 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.
Asked when the consultation period will actually start and end, Symonette said, “I’m waiting for Dame Anita Allen to get back to me. My senior staff met with her on some changes with regard to the bill and I’m not sure where that is.
“As you know, it’s over 123 pages long. It’s a substantial bill.
“It has a number of implications and I think only a few of them have been concentrated on in the press.”
He further pointed to clauses in the bill which would allow for Bahamian women married to foreign men to pass on their citizenship to their children born outside The Bahamas.
The Christie administration held a gender equality referendum in 2016 aimed at addressing this issue.
Question one on the referendum asked voters whether they approve the proposed change to the constitution, so that a child born outside The Bahamas would become a Bahamian citizen at birth if either its mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth.
Question three asked voters if they agree that a Bahamian father of a person born outside of wedlock should be able to pass his citizenship to that person, subject to legal proof that he is the father.
Along with the other two referendum questions, these were strongly rejected by voters.
“I’m constantly amazed that the people of The Bahamas turned that referendum issue down, because in my daily life I am bombarded with that on a daily basis and quite often I bring to Cabinet papers that make those people Bahamian,” Symonette added.
As for the bill in its entirety, the immigration minister said he will not release it until he is finished reviewing it.
“I’m aiming for probably during the budget debate to be able to release it in its form that will be available for consultation,” he said. “It’s a work in process.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications