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Immigration reform

Published: Sep 26, 2013

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Immigration reform is a highly contentious issue in The Bahamas that must be addressed. Our current ad hoc approach leaves eligible citizens, foreign corporations, and refugees floundering in a broken system. Broad ministerial support is needed for this to occur, yet political agendas continue to stifle any real reform.

The infatuation with a “One Bahamas” perpetuates a dangerous insular agenda that belittles the contributions of a diverse society. It places the antiquated processing policies of the Department of Immigration in direct conflict with the progressive outlook of the Ministry of Financial Services.

Though both Fred Mitchell and Ryan Pinder acknowledge the need for interagency consensus on foreign labor, such dialogue is not likely to lead to administrative changes in the near future.

Earlier in February, Pinder said, “Our goal is to work with the Department of Immigration to ensure a progressive immigration policy that protects and facilitates opportunities and mobility for Bahamians, while efficiently meeting the needs of businesses for occasional foreign talent.”

Protecting Bahamian jobs is important, particularly as unemployment is 13.1 percent on New Providence and 18 percent on Grand Bahama. Bahamians should be considered first for available positions; however, the labor pool of The Bahamas is not large enough to generate skilled workers in all professions.

Even more so, the physical constraints of a global economy continue to shrink with technological advances in communication and operations systems. Bahamians are competing for specialized professions in a world with an increasing number of post-secondary and graduate degree candidates.

While the 2010 Census noted that people over the age of 15 with a university qualification increased to 16 percent, last year in August the Ministry of Education revealed that nearly 50 percent of high school students failed to qualify for a diploma. If The Bahamas does not produce educated professionals, surely domestic and international firms will have difficulty finding qualified Bahamians.

The Bahamas cannot fool itself that a qualified Bahamian exists for every position. Attracting foreign entities to The Bahamas is good, it will expand the breadth of professions available. While tourism-related industries account for 60 percent of GDP and the financial services sector for 20 percent of GDP, many young Bahamians are simply uninspired by the career opportunities available.

Yet, many foreign entities welcomed by the Bahamas Investment Authority incur incredible resistance from the Department of Immigration. Administrative processing of foreign applicants is unnecessarily long and arduous; it is a significant burden and blatant shortcoming in the ease of doing business in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas risks stifling innovation and future skills transfer should immigration policies remain regressive. Our reluctance to welcome and process eligible citizens and permit holders has incubated an unhealthy aversion to diversity.

We hope that the Department of Immigration is working closely with the Ministry of Financial Services. Undoubtedly, an attractive business environment will entice foreign entities but it will take interagency consensus on immigration policies for The Bahamas to actually sustain itself as a business center.

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