Making New Citizens: Bermuda Searching for a “Pathway” Too

bermuda

Between Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in the US, the global discussion about immigration rights and border control has made us all want to double check our passports.  Interestingly, those issues have been vigorously debated just off the coast of the USA for much longer than the existence of Trump hair memes. Bermuda, a picturesque 21-square mile island about 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, has been struggling with its own understanding of immigration and the implementation of immigration reforms.

In many ways, the conversation about immigration in Bermuda mirrors that in the US and in Europe – heavily focused on how to address and balance the interests of both long-time residents as well as newer arrivals.  With increasing globalization, greater ease of travel, and economic and social pressures compelling individuals to range far beyond their home countries for greater opportunity – or even basic security – the conversation is not likely to abate any time soon.

The immigration issue in Bermuda is complex, and revolves around the inability of long term residents to apply for or receive Bermudian citizenship, or “status.” In 1989, the existing pathway to status was eliminated, leaving a gaping void in immigration policy. Bermuda is one of the few places in the world where such a void exists.

The process of creating a pathway to status has remained stagnant, resulting in tensions among citizens and non-citizens. Some non-Bermudian residents can become permanent residents (PRCs) and do enjoy certain freedoms that other non-citizens do not – such as working on the island without a work permit.  But PRCs are still denied rights that should be granted to them as long standing members of the Bermudian community; they cannot vote, must pay a higher tax to purchase land, and their children have no long-term rights on the island. They are, in effect, second class citizens.

I have an Irish father and an American mother, and citizenship in both countries. I am Bermuda born and raised – and proud of it.  Yet I remain unable to obtain status myself. I have always considered Bermuda to be my home, but it is hard to think that I will never be a citizen in the nation I call home nor truly a national in the countries to which I have citizenship. My children will have no rights to Bermuda, and it is sad to consider that I might not be able to raise them in the beautiful island that I call home.

I do understand the sensitivity surrounding immigration reform. Bermuda is a small island with limited resources and jobs available. It makes sense that people are very protective of who has a claim to the island and all that comes with it.

However, many of the people fighting to improve their legal standing are not strangers to Bermuda. In many cases, they are people who have become engrained in Bermuda, its culture and community over decades – like my father, who has now lived more of his life in Bermuda than in his native Ireland – and they deserve the chance to have the security that status provides.

And what’s more, in Bermuda, an independent, international Fiscal Responsibility Panel has produced an Annual Assessment of Bermuda suggesting that a more liberal immigration policy would help to boost the growth of Bermuda in terms of population and economy.

Again, I am struck by the similarities in the discussions in Bermuda, the US and Europe.  The absence of a pathway to status in Bermuda is like building a wall between citizens and non-citizens. The economic benefits of providing “non-native” residents with status and security should encourage countries – Bermuda and the US alike – to welcome immigration reforms and to also encourage people to come to their country as a place of opportunity. Indeed, in a more connected world, people will remain inclined to move for economic opportunities or to escape political unrest. I don’t believe that stopping the flow of immigration matches the reality of the world we live in today.

I think that Bermuda, the US and the world at large, need to have an honest and educated discussion about the realities of globalization and the implications of providing long term security to a country’s long term residents who are not yet citizens.  We need long-term solutions that are careful to respect the interests of the citizen population, while also respecting the rights of the newcomers.

I cannot help but notice that granting long term residents of Bermuda status is not a one-way street. There is so much more that comes out of being a citizen than just owning a passport. The implications range from improved human rights to a stronger economy to a more stable population, marked by more citizens, more people with rights, and more people with the freedom to exercise these rights within the Bermudian economy. In Bermuda, such solutions won’t help only one group or one side, but all of us – we are one Bermuda.

Perhaps, by addressing its own immigration problem, Bermuda can become a model for successful reform, and teach a lesson to the rest of the world. If Bermuda can achieve this, then maybe there is hope for similar changes to occur on a larger scale across the world.

– Aisling Gorman, University of Richmond, Intern

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