Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s recent judgment clarifies an existing immigration law. *File photo
Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s recent judgment clarifies an existing immigration law. *File photo

Longtime permanent residents on the island are hoping a recent judicial decision will open the door to citizenship.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s recent judgment clarifies an existing immigration law and appears to give Permanent Residents’ Certificate (PRC) holders, who meet certain criteria, a way to gain Bermudian status. The Government could appeal his decision, but thus far has not done so.

Among the chief criteria is that PRC holders have to have resided in Bermuda before August 1, 1989.

Attorney Andrea Moniz-DeSouza, who is president of the Vasco da Gama Club, has lived in Bermuda her whole life, but has not had the opportunity to vote. She is among those who have suggested the current immigration structure on the island has created an underclass of second-class citizens.

“There are many permanent residents who have spent most of their lives here and identify Bermuda as home,” she said. “Many feel at heart that they are Bermudian, but they just don’t have the paperwork to substantialize what they feel.”

Ms Moniz-DeSouza said she understands the Government’s need to protect the interests of Bermudians.

“PRC holders, however, are people who have lived here, most of them for most of their lives and have contributed towards not only Bermuda’s economy, but also its culture. They love Bermuda as home,” she said. “They’re not trying to take anything away from naturalized Bermudians. It’s more [about] trying to belong and wanting to fit in.”

She hopes the recent ruling is not appealed. The ability to vote, she said, means a lot for those who have never been able to do so in Bermuda.

“I’ve attained PRC but never in my life voted as I grew up in Bermuda. To be able to have the honour of voting, that would be a momentous occasion for not only myself but many others,” she said.

She is not alone. PRC holder Michael Markham is a 69-year-old retiree who used to work as a political consultant. 

He’s been on the island since 1962, but does not have Bermudian status. He framed the issue as a matter of human rights and equality issue; people who have lived here for decades and consider Bermuda their home should not be stuck in a strange “state of non-belonging, of being stateless”.

“Certain fundamental human rights have been denied to people,” he said. “Another mechanism that would achieve justice and equality for people is needed. I’m particularly concerned with the innocent who are here not of their own volition but they belong to Bermuda and are denied their rights.”

He added: “It’s so complicated and so emotive. It’s not insoluble but it’s close to it.”

Mr Markham is insistent that race underpins the whole issue, although he believes it shouldn’t.  

“The whole idea that white people are going to come and vote against black people I think is nonsense,” he said.

Craig Clark has lived here for 32 years. He is originally from Ontario, Canada but says Bermuda is his home. Bermuda immigration policy means that one of his children is Bermudian while another is not. He is among the PRC holders to hope that he can achieve Bermuda status one day.

“It would give me a greater sense of belonging to Bermuda, even though I do feel it is my home already,” said the 56-year-old who sells computer cloud services for a living. “It would be nice to have the ability to vote.”

He described immigration policy as a “political football…no one really wants to touch it.

“More than one person has said ‘it’s taxation without representation’,” he said. “Certainly, in any other country, someone who has lived there this long would have more security in terms of status.”

He said he understands the country’s need to be protective when it comes to immigration because of its size, but adds that “perhaps it’s gone a little too far”.

Robert Pires, a Bermudian citizen who has advocated for changes that would allow longtime PRC holders a chance at full status, said immigration policies can have real-world economic effects.

“You can’t expect people to invest into the economy if they don’t have long-term rights. You have to have that in order to retain intellectual capital, not only retain it, but attract intellectual capital,” he said.

Failing to relax the stringent citizenship requirements, said Mr. Pires, who is the CEO of Bermuda Investment Services Ltd., would make the country appear xenophobic. That, in turn, would hurt business, he said.

He is concerned the OBA government “will continue the legacy of the UBP by trying to avoid giving citizenship”.

He said the PLP is hesitant about granting citizenship to PRC holders because “the thinking is, if we give these people citizenship, they’re not likely to vote for the PLP”.