Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker yesterday decried the government’s amendments to the Immigration Act that will create new work visas as unworkable and undesirable and railed against the government for not consulting with the bar, claiming the changes would undermine the sovereignty of The Bahamas.
The association said the reforms could threaten the legal profession and others.
“We oppose the amendment as presented and reject the pernicious ‘trickle down’ thinking upon which it appears to be based,” the statement said.
It added, “Sovereignty, oft-times a hard-fought privilege, is the solemn responsibility of a nation and its government.
“Contemplating sovereignty is both sobering and useful as it focuses the mind when considering the proper aims and objectives of any immigration regime.”
The Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was passed in the House yesterday, will establish two new visas.
The BH-1B work visa, according to the bill, would grant a work visa biometric card to anyone who has permission to engage in gainful occupation in The Bahamas that has a specified commercial enterprise certificate under the Commercial Enterprises Act, 2017.
The BH-4S permit would allow the spouse or dependent child of a BH-1B work visa holder to reside in The Bahamas and enroll in educational institutions during the duration of the permit.
The bill also allows for exemptions for short-term visas, a provision that The Bahamas Bar Association heavily criticized.
The amendment says that exemptions from work visas or short-term work visas would be allowed for any person that enters The Bahamas for less than 14 days and only for the purposes of: attending a conference or seminar as a participant, excluding organizers of the event; attending a trade show or summit, excluding organizers; working as a non-executive director of a business being carried out in The Bahamas but not being involved in day-to-day operations; or attending a business meeting with a local company in the capacity of a chairman, director, shareholder, chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, consultant, legal counsel, compliance officer, accountant, auditor, actuary, medical professional, controller, analyst or manager.
Parker’s statement said, “Although the Bahamas Bar Association was not consulted with respect to the proposed Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2019, we are nevertheless mandated to promote positive law reform, and to decry reforms which potentially threaten not only our profession but those of our fellow Bahamians and our way of life.
“By this amendment, the government proposes to divest itself of responsibility for the regulation of the engagement of visitors to our shores in a myriad of professional and commercial activities, ostensibly on the basis that they would only be permitted to do so in fourteen-day intervals.”
Parker said the new law would be administratively unworkable and undesirable, and that the government has been unable to explain how it will add long-term value to the professions and daily lives of Bahamians.
“Had there been proper consultation, for example, we would have been able to explore the fact that effectively depriving immigration officers on the front line of any meaningful discretion is not practical and does not appear to be in our national interest,” the statement said.
“As a professional regulatory body, we consider the amendment part of a broader effort to arbitrarily undermine our ability to discharge our functions and the ability of our members to develop their businesses in order to take advantage of the often touted and fabled foreign direct investment.
“It is clear that the government’s spin on its immigration reform agenda is aimed at promoting The Bahamas as being ‘open for business’.
“However, as Bahamians and professionals, we must necessarily, and repeatedly, remind our government that their first priority ought to be ensuring that Bahamians are able to remain open for business.”