In the face of the numerous complaints of poor service and the persistent allegations of corrupt practices at the Department of Immigration, the FNM promised in its general election Manifesto ‘92 to implement an immigration policy which “though designed to maximize opportunities for Bahamians would be used as an instrument of development rather than a tool to frustrate and retard”.
The new immigration policy materialised and was implemented with measurable success.
Foreign-born children of Bahamian married women were granted citizenship upon application; adult foreign-born children of such women were approved for naturalization in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
The backlog of applications for citizenship and permanent resident status by other persons with familial connection to The Bahamas or those legally resident in the country for periods of between 10 and 50 years were systematically processed.
Thousands had their immigration status regularized, including numerous Haitian nationals who met the standard agreed in the bilateral Immigration Treaty concluded between The Bahamas and Haiti. And, Bahamian born children of Haitian nationals and of a number of Caribbean Commonwealth countries and colonies such as Jamaica and Turks and Caicos who were continuously resident in The Bahamas since birth were granted status in The Bahamas.
Foreign born spouses of Bahamian women were routinely granted permanent resident status with the right to work.
Foreign born spouses of Bahamian men were routinely granted citizenship as provided for in the constitution.
The introduction of a spousal permit in 1997 provided for foreign spouses of either male or female citizens to be issued a permit valid for five years granting them the right to be engaged in any area of the economy.
Upon the expiration of the spousal permit, applications for permanent resident status with the right to work by the foreign spouse were routinely approved if the parties remained married.
The policy requiring that work permits only be granted when suitably qualified and experienced Bahamians were not available was maintained. However, the waiting period for the processing of first time and renewal application for work permits was reduced.
The night-time raids of the homes of suspected illegal immigrants were ended. Immigration officers were instructed to conduct immigration status checks only during the day and preferably at a job site and never at hospitals, schools or churches.
The practice of incarcerating immigration detainees at Her Majesty’s Prison together with convicted criminals was ended with the establishment of an immigration detention center.
And, the government instituted regular repatriation exercises of illegal immigrants from Haiti via aircraft, reducing the period that immigration detainees were held for deportation.
The implementation of this policy was followed during three non-consecutive terms in office by the FNM between 1992 and 2002 and again between 2007 and 2012. Those policies with small deviations were also followed by the first Christie led PLP government between 2002 and 2007.
The PLP’s return to office in 2012 and the election of the FNM to government in 2017 brought significant changes to immigration policies which frustrate Bahamians and confuse foreigners giving rise to new complaints about doing business in the country.
(To be continued)