Bermuda Immigration Act 2017

The Hon. Walton Brown

Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Home Affairs, The Hon. C. Walton D. Brown, Jr., JP, MP

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to table in this Honourable House, the bill entitled Bermuda Immigration (No. 2) Act 2017. This bill represents another phase in our “next wave” raft of Immigration changes.

Mr. Speaker, I must remind Honourable Members of the PLP Government’s platform promise for: Complete comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform to ensure that the rights of Bermudians are advanced and protected, while recognising the need to grow our economy with fair and balanced work permits and residential policies. Our reform will ensure that Bermudians will come first, employer abuse is minimised, and the land in Bermuda is protected for Bermudians. This commitment was repeated in the recent Speech to the Throne.

Mr. Speaker, the bill entitled “Bermuda Immigration (No. 2) Act 2017” seeks to amend section 8 of the principal Act to provide for the provisions of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 to operate and have effect, notwithstanding the Human Rights Act 1981. In essence this means that this bill seeks to exempt the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 from the primacy of the Human Rights Act 1981.

Mr. Speaker, this does not mean that the Immigration legislation can ignore the consideration of human rights.  Section 12 of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968, which has primacy over all Government functions and legislation, provides protection from discrimination based on race, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed. Even then the Constitution makes provision for this right to be limited if it is “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.

In addition, the UK is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights and that Convention has been extended to Bermuda. Therefore any decisions that are made in accordance with the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 must also adhere to the articles contained in the Convention.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members should note that the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 is consistent with Section 11 of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968, which imposes restrictions on persons who do not belong to Bermuda; including: the restriction of movement of residence within Bermuda and the exclusion or expulsion from our island; and the restriction on the acquisition or use of land or other property in Bermuda.

Mr. Speaker, you may ask why we are tabling this Bill. Over the years, the tenets of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956, i.e. to protect Bermuda for Bermudians, have been challenged and continue to be so. Unfortunately, the primacy of the Human Rights Act 1981 has caused some non-Bermudians to claim that they are being discriminated against based on their place of origin.

Mr. Speaker, you will remember the public statement of Minister Fahy when he announced that the tabling of the Pathways-to-Status bill would “advance human rights in our island to bring us in line with important international human rights standards. This announcement today should finally bring the much-needed security and peace of mind to those in our community who have come to call Bermuda their home but yet, legally, are viewed as outside guests here”. It is obvious that the legacy of this statement continues to impact the mindset of certain non-Bermudians. In addition, Minister Fahy made this announcement against the backdrop of statistics that showed that there was an unemployment rate of 25% amongst young black Bermudian men between the ages of 16 and 35. Obviously human rights, much-needed security and peace of mind were not extended to our young Bermudian citizens.

Mr. Speaker, there are very few countries other than Bermuda and Canada that allow their human rights legislation to extend to their immigration legislation; not even the United Kingdom allows this. In fact, you will be aware that many countries have doubled down on their immigration regulations.

In fact, the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) makes the following statement on their website:

“The normative approach to migration can be seen mainly from two different, but complementary angles:

  1. The principles and standards deriving from State sovereignty. These include the right to protect borders, to confer nationality, to admit and expel foreigners, to combat trafficking and smuggling and to safeguard national security.
  2. The human rights of the persons involved in migration. Many relevant conventions exist at the universal and regional levels, although most of them do not explicitly refer to migrants or recognize them as a specific group. These instruments are spread across various branches of law, such as human rights law, humanitarian law, refugee law, criminal law and labour law; the relevant human rights norms are therefore dispersed throughout a wide range of texts.”

The Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 addresses the first. The Human Rights Act 1981, along with our other legislation accomplishes the second point.

Mr. Speaker, Finally, I would like to quote a lawyer colleague whose comment encapsulates our position – “Across the board from top to bottom and from east to west; from janitors to CEOs, non-Bermudians should only be employed where qualified Bermudians cannot be found. Every country I have worked or lived in abroad, aggressively pursued these policies and laws.”

In a country with limited resources, 22 square miles and a population of 65,000, the protection of land for Bermudians and the promotion and protection of Bermudians in the workforce is perfectly justifiable in a democratic society. Even Section 6(9) of the Human Rights Act 1981 protects employers who give preferences to Bermudians.

Thank you Mr. Speaker