Sylvan Richards
Sylvan Richards

The OBA government is advocating an increase in Bermuda’s population, saying it is key to fostering economic growth for the island. 

OBA MP Sylvan Richards told the Bermuda Sun an increase in population is needed “in order for our economy to have the critical mass that it needs to function
properly”.

Last month, the government released statistics that anticipated the island’s population to decrease by four per cent between 2010, when it topped 64,000, according to official statistics, and 2020, when it is expected to top 61,500. 

Some have suggested the population decline has been much more steep. In 2012, it was reported the island lost 6,000 in population in just over four years while the national workforce bled thousands of jobs.

He said the island should be concentrating on encouraging Bermudians living abroad to come home and encouraging foreign expats to relocate here.

The government, he said, should consider streamlining the existing immigration process to make it easier for companies to recruit expats to the island, offer more incentives for companies to relocate here and consider reforms to the island’s commercial immigration policy.

The government should consider having a commercial immigration programme that offers residency in exchange for some sort of investment or contribution to the country.

“Because we’re a small country, we’re not looking to bring in huge numbers. We’re looking to bring in high net worth individuals, who can possibly start companies here.”

Mr. Richards acknowledged that some in government had “bandied about” $10 million as a requirement for net worth for possible candidates for a newly revamped commercial immigration programme.

He then stressed, “Nothing has been decided. Nothing is concrete yet.”

Bermuda needs to step up its marketing; the country needs to do a better job of convincing people overseas about the benefits of living and working on the island such as visa-free travel to Europe, he said.

He also stressed that cash-for-citizenship was not something that would be considered for expats under any sort of commercial immigration reform.

 “What we’re not talking about is giving these individuals the right to vote,” he said.

That statement rejects a PLP assertion levelled against the OBA earlier this year; the PLP asserted the OBA was trying to shift the voting demographics of the island via changing commercial immigration. 

Earlier this year,
Opposition Leader Marc Bean thought the discussion about commercial immigration reform was an OBA ploy to give citizenship to wealthy business leaders, which would in theory skew voting demographics in the OBA’s favour.

“It’s a covert move by [Minister of Home Affairs] Michael Fahy to attempt to change the electorate back to something that occurred in the 1960s. 

“That’s exactly what it is. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors,” said Mr. Bean in January.

Mr. Fahy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Richards said he lived and worked in the U.S. for 15 years. He came back, he said, because “I knew there were jobs here”.

His comments echoed parts of last month’s budget presentation from Finance Minister E.T. “Bob” Richards.

“It is virtually impossible to grow GDP with a shrinking population…without a game-changer, we have to depend on incremental growth in population and small increases in productivity to grow GDP,” he said at the time.

He added, “Therefore, population growth is an important component of economic growth. 

“The simple truth is, to grow the Bermuda economy, we have to increase the resident population. 

“Biologically, we are not growing fast enough to even sustain our population, and even if somehow Bermuda started its own baby boom, it would take too long to have any timely economic impact. The only alternative is to import people.”