Shadow Minister for Immigration and Home Affairs Walton Brown
Shadow Minister for Immigration and Home Affairs Walton Brown

It is being spoken of in political circles as a ‘game changer’ — the possibility of thousands of PRC holders being granted status and the right to vote.

The Shadow Minister for Immigration and Home Affairs Walton Brown is calling for a suspension of all immigration applications seeking Bermudian status, saying a recent judicial decision constitutes “legislating from the bench”.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s May ruling meant permanent residents’ certificate (PRC) holders who have lived on the island on or before July 31, 1989, could be granted full Bermudian citizenship.

Mr Brown is still pushing a review of the country’s immigration policy, after his proposal that would have eliminated the pertinent section of immigration law was defeated in the House of Assembly last week.

“There needs to be reform of immigration policy,” he said yesterday in Alaska Hall. “But it needs to be holistic. It needs to take into consideration the rights of all who live on this island.”

After this week, the government will no longer be able to appeal the PRC ruling.

“No legislature wants to see legislating from the bench because that means it’s an interpretation of the law, rather than the objective and purpose of what legislators are meant to be accomplishing,” Mr Brown said. “So, it is legislation from the bench.”

The size of Bermuda, he said, should be considered when altering immigration law. Any change in immigration policy could have a significant effect on the island’s workforce. He pointed out Bermudians have the right to live and work anywhere in the European Union, but said such an arrangement was not reciprocal: “The rationale for that has to do with size and impact,” he said.
Later, he added, “Nothing’s a done deal in politics. The window expires this week, but there are still remedies available. We will pursue all remedies available.”

Peter Sanderson, the lawyer who represented two PRC holders in the case that set the legal precedent, says he does not see the point of a suspension of status applications: “It would merely be delaying the inevitable,” he said. “These are people who have been waiting decades to join Bermudians as equals and I think they have been waiting long enough. The Act gives people a right to apply for status, and the Minister has a duty to either approve or reject the application.”

Once someone’s spouse becomes Bermudian, said Mr Sanderson, their spouse can apply for status after that person has been Bermudian for 10 years. Children can apply for status if their parent became Bermudian before they reach the age of 22.

One of the questions that remain, said Mr Sanderson, is what Bermuda will do with the second and third generations of children born in Bermuda or who came here as young children after 1989 who have no right to status: “In some cases, these are people who cannot even get permanent residency for themselves,” he said. “These are people who are culturally Bermudian, who are often assumed to be Bermudian, but who are denied their rights because of where their parents or grandparents came from. Bermuda has international obligations to do the right thing for these people.”

How many people could be directly affected by the ruling is a matter of debate. The government has estimated there might be more than 1,300 PRC holders and 150 children under the age of 22. Mr Brown has said there could be a much larger number of children who could qualify and as many as 1,200 spouses.

Mr Brown acknowledged that such an influx of new voters could change the electoral landscape of the island. Asked what party would stand to benefit from such a change, he said, “The PLP is speaking out against it, so…”  He trailed off before completing the thought.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said of the judicial decision and Mr Brown’s comments: “We are reviewing the opinion and will comment at the appropriate time.”

Chief Justice Kawaley declined to comment for the story, citing judicial protocol.