Members of Parliament yesterday passed the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to provide exemptions for work permits in the country.
Leader of Government Business in the House Renward Wells called for a division of the votes on the bill.
Nineteen members voted in favor of the bill; Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP Philip Brave Davis voted against it; Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine abstained; and seventeen members were absent.
The bill was debated on Wednesday and was at times contentious and heated.
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin called the bill regressive and “insulting” and said it “takes The Bahamas back pre-1967”. But Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette said the amendments could lead to an injection of $300 million into the Bahamian economy.
The bill was left in committee and voted on yesterday.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament shortly after he voted to abstain, McAlpine said he was not comfortable with the provisions contained in the bill.
The bill allows for exemptions from work visas or short-term work visas for professionals who enter The Bahamas for less than 14 days for specific purposes such as attending or participating in a conference or attending a business meeting, among other categories. The bill provides detailed guidelines for the exemptions. It also establishes a BH-1B visa and a BH-4S permit.
McAlpine said, “I understood the attempt the government is trying to do in terms of trying to increase employment for Bahamians, but I’m just not comfortable with thousands of persons coming into the country,” he said.
“I’m not against globalization as I stated earlier, but you can’t have globalization at the expense of Bahamianization.
“Bahamians must feel comfortable. Like I said, we are becoming an endangered species. It seems like everybody else is coming to The Bahamas and can make it.
“This seems to be one of the only places you can come here a broke man and leave a multimillionaire. And Bahamians who have been living here and striving here have difficulty still getting loans from banks just to be able to start a business. There seems to be a lack confidence in Bahamians of granting opportunities to Bahamians.
“So I couldn’t vote yes and I couldn’t vote no. It is something that is up in the air for me because I am still not comfortable and when you’re not comfortable with something, sometimes it’s better to just stand still or stand aside.”
Asked about an exchange in the House during the vote between himself and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, McAlpine said, “I don’t know if the PM was being facetious or trying to have a ‘got you’ moment with Pineridge, but Pineride is a man that trusts in God and I fear no man but God.
“So if he didn’t hear me, I will gladly stiffen myself and strengthen my voice and make sure he heard me, and did it with fever and respect.”
Centreville MP Reece Chipman walked out of the chamber before Wells called for a division of the votes and Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller walked out during the vote.
Article 61 (8) of the House Rules of Procedures states, “A member shall not leave the chamber during a division.”
Both MPs returned to their seats immediately after the vote.
Central and South Abaco MP James Albury; Carmichael MP Desmond Bannister; North Andros and the Berry Islands MP Carlton Bowleg; Southern Shores MP Frankie Campbell; Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper; Freetown MP Dionisio D’Aguilar; Mount Moriah MP Marvin Dames; Fox Hill MP Shonel Ferguson; Marathon MP Romauld Ferreira; Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes; Hanna-Martin; Fort Charlotte MP Mark Humes; Marco City MP Michael Pintard; MICAL MP Miriam Emmanuel; and Seabreeze MP Lanisha Rolle were also absent for the vote.