The second Christie-led government brought dramatic changes to Bahamas immigration policy.
Within months, it amended the Immigration Act to make unrestricted right to work visas for spouses of Bahamian citizens (spousal permits) renewable indefinitely.
Citizenship or permanent residence applications by such persons later languished for months on end, as did applications for citizenship by the foreign-born children of married Bahamian women.
Later “belonger status” was reintroduced. This provided a hybrid kind of permanent resident status for:
– Persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents resident in The Bahamas for long periods of time, including since birth;
– Persons born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father; and
– Foreign-born children of a single Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother.
And, for the first time ever, children whether born overseas or in The Bahamas who did not hold Bahamian citizenship were required to obtain a student visa to enroll in school. Visas had to be stamped into valid passports.
Night-time home raids searching for illegal immigrants were resumed.
Allegations of mistreatment and abuse at the Immigration Detention Centre escalated.
Increasingly, illegal migrants were repatriated without benefit of first being charged and convicted in a Bahamian court.
The implementation of these policies resulted in a number of children born in The Bahamas being deported to Haiti with their foreign-born, undocumented parents.
The government has made no formal move to reverse the immigration policies of the last Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government; rather it has confirmed policies implemented.
In October 2017, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis advised that all irregular migrants in The Bahamas, regardless of their nationality, had a deadline of December 31, 2017 to voluntarily leave the country.
In November, reports claimed that Bahamian-born adults and children without citizenship or residency certificates were being deported to Haiti. In a highly publicized case, one such individual was ordered to be returned by a Bahamian court.
Since the introduction of permanent resident status with the right to work, there has been no restriction on areas in the economy in which such persons might be engaged.
The same unrestricted right to work was extended to holders of spousal permits beginning in 1997.
There are many allegations of abuse of spousal permits through marriages of convenience, particularly involving foreign fishermen.
In an attempt to police sham marriages, a new policy was announced this year prohibiting both permanent residents with the right to work and spousal permit holders from being engaged in commercial fishing.
The promise that children born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a married Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father would have their applications for Bahamian status dealt with expeditiously has not materialized. High expectations following the appointment of a committee on citizenship have been disappointed.
The immigration process is now, if anything, longer and more tedious.