Amid reports that foreigners looking to volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian must secure temporary work permits, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis assured yesterday that volunteers working with international aid organizations will not face any immigration challenges.
“Individuals concerned about volunteers being turned away and having immigration challenges, I only want to say that volunteers who are attached to international agencies will not experience any challenges as they are a part of the international agencies and they will be accommodated very quickly and rapidly,” he said.
“But we must be very careful [because] there can be unscrupulous individuals who would state that they are volunteers coming in to help rebuild, and they may not necessarily be volunteers.
“That matter will be addressed at the appropriate time by the minister with responsibility for immigration, as he and his team are looking at that matter to ensure that volunteers can enter our shores unobstructed and help to rebuild, but those who are coming with ulterior motives, we would be able to recognize and deal with it appropriately.”
Earlier this week, rumors circulated on social media that volunteers must now pay $300 to secure temporary work permits for volunteer efforts on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Prior to the prime minister’s statement in the House, Central and South Abaco MP James Albury assured in a Facebook post that the government’s policy on the matter has not changed.
“It has been brought to my attention that some persons have been told that persons or groups on humanitarian missions to Abaco are being asked to pay for a work permit,” Albury stated.
“I have just spoken with my colleagues and confirm that there has been no change in policy regarding relief workers and there is no requirement for work permits of any kind for these groups or individuals. If persons and/or groups have been told otherwise, please ask them to contact me directly with specifics about who they had spoken to and what was being asked of them.”
Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson also addressed the issue when he spoke to reporters earlier in the day.
He said, “We still have an obligation to ensure that only fit and proper persons who are in the best interest of peace, order and good governance enter and leave The Bahamas.
“We have not just national obligations to ensure that the right persons are here, but under international obligations, because we are dealing with the OECD and the Financial Action Task Force. We’re saying to the world that we can account for persons coming and going.
“This is what the government has done. Post Hurricane Dorian, we issued the exigency order to allow products and services for the purposes of dealing with the devastation from Hurricane Dorian to come.
“You saw where international groups came in. They fed persons. They were allowed in. Their staff was allowed in. That is still ongoing because the exigency order is for six months. There was an order to even replace documents free of charge, so there is a process to have this done.
“Persons can’t just turn up. You must understand that around the world after devastation, you had persons who came and did not have proper intentions. Women and children were hurt.
“Now, The Bahamas is still inviting persons to come. We are asking you to go through NEMA, as all the international organizations, they presented their credentials to NEMA. But persons are now coming and they are going directly to the immigration department.
“The policy is, if you put a cordial, fit and proper explanation to the immigration department that you’re here, you’re not here to displace Bahamians from working, you’re here genuinely to provide a service to assist, in those circumstances, we have the authority to exercise our discretion, and we have been doing that.”
Johnson said he has instructed Director of Immigration Clarence Russell to look into the recent complaints.
“If you can make a reasonable, as someone coming in or someone wanting someone to assist, a reasonable proposition to the immigration department…they will do that assessment,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we must remember that it’s not a free for all. This is a very serious thing.”