Amendments to Immigration Act passes in House of Assembly
A bill to amend the Immigration Act, which seeks to provide for the issuance of BH-IB visas and BH-4S work permits, passed in the House of Assembly today despite the absence of 17 members of Parliament during the vote.
Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis was the lone MP to vote against the amendment. The remaining three opposition members were absent for the vote, along with 14 members of the governing side. Leader of Government Business Renward Wells called for a division of the vote.
Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine abstained and 19 MPs voted in favor of the amendments.
During debate on the bill, Minister of Immigration and Financial Services Brent Symonette said the idea behind the BH-1B visa is to attract technology firms in the United States that may be denied H-1B visas due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown.
“The idea was to recruit U.S. companies, where America has an H-1B visa, so we’re trying to recruit those companies in particular in the United States or elsewhere in the world, whose visas are about ready to expire and also brand the BH-1B visa as a Bahamas tech visa,” Symonette said.
The issuance of the BH-1B visa and BH-4S work permit is expected to have an economic impact of more than $50 million if the government is able to attract those specific technology firms being incentivized under the Commercial Enterprises Act.
“The U.S. issues about 65,000 to 85,000 H-1B visas per year. The president says he’s going to restrict that number. In 2017 approximately 199,000 people applied for those visas and were gobbled up in four days.”
Using rough estimates, Symonette said tech companies that relocate their employees to The Bahamas would inject about $300 million to $325 million in investment annually through housing, transportation, education and food, which could turn into about $24.4 million per year in value-added tax (VAT).
He estimated that this would generate in approximately $12.5 million in income for the Department of Immigration and $16.5 million in National Insurance over a 12 to 18-month period.
Explaining why he abstained, McAlpine said while he appreciates what the government is trying to achieve through the amendments, he is uncomfortable with some aspects of the bill.
“I’m not anti-globalization… but you can’t have globalization at the expense of bahamianization. Bahamians must feel comfortable. We’re becoming an endangered species.”