Claims that the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2019 will allow for the free movement of labor in The Bahamas are “erroneous and mischievous”, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
The bill, which seeks to provide exemptions for work permits in the country, was passed in the House of Assembly on Thursday and is expected to be debated in the Senate on Monday.
In a statement on Thursday, Bahamas Bar Association (BBA) President Kahlil Parker decried the amendments to the act as unworkable and undesirable and railed against the government for not consulting with the bar. He claimed the changes would undermine the sovereignty of The Bahamas.
The association said the reforms could threaten the legal profession and others.
However, speaking to reporters following the official ribbon cutting ceremony for Poinciana House on East Bay Street, Turnqest said he believes there’s a misunderstanding of what the bill is trying to accomplish.
“The fact of the matter is, what we are looking at is attracting to The Bahamas professionals and investors who are involved in industries that are not represented in The Bahamas or that are underrepresented in The Bahamas,” he said.
“These are specialty firms. And so if you look at the list of professionals that are listed in this bill and you look at the reference to the Commercial Enterprise Bill, which sets out the kinds of industries that we are interested in attracting to The Bahamas, you will recognize very quickly that this is relatively narrowly defined.”
Turnquest noted that there are controls in the legislation to ensure that there is no runaway or free access to the Bahamian market for foreigners to come and conduct business without a properly vetted work permit.
“This is aimed at the high level technical people,” he continued.
“It is aimed at executives of corporations that may be operating in The Bahamas who want to come and visit their institution here in The Bahamas.
“[It will] allow them to be able to conduct business easily and unfettered, again working on this ease of business, working on this efficiency, to ensure that we make The Bahamas as attractive an investment destination as we possibly can.
“This is not the free movement of people or free movement of labor and any characterization to that extent is absolutely erroneous and mischievous.”
Turnquest further insisted that while he is unclear on who exactly was consulted on the bill, there was some consultation.
“We didn’t dream this up overnight.”
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.
In a statement on Thursday, the BBA said, “We oppose the amendment as presented and reject the pernicious ‘trickle down’ thinking upon which it appears to be based.”
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.”