June 17, 2015
A prominent businessman yesterday said that the government must remain content with "anemic growth" if it persists with overly "xenophobic" immigration policies for skilled labor.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Superwash President Dionisio D'Aguilar frankly stated The Bahamas does not presently have the "intellectual bandwidth" to fill the country's growing skills gap and urged the government to ease labor restrictions for foreign specialists if it desires economic growth.
"While it may be politically popular to be hard on immigration, we simply don't have the intellectual bandwidth to grow ourselves out of this economy, so we need to import it. Our immigration regime is so xenophobic that we are shooting ourselves in the foot," he said.
D'Aguilar questioned why the government does not invest more effort in wooing high-net-worth individuals to The Bahamas, rather than promoting restrictions that make the process of moving to and investing in the country unhelpful and unappealing. Instead, D'Aguilar feared that the Ministry of Immigration would continue to devote a disproportionate amount of its energies in combating the influx of low-skilled migrants.
"So be happy with the anemic growth that you have. Your policy is not working. It's reflected in the numbers. Change course," D'Aguilar said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently cut its 2015 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the country from 2.3 percent to 1.8 percent, while Moody's has similarly reduced its growth estimates from two percent to 1.7 percent.
D'Aguilar is hardly the first to voice such opinions and joins a growing chorus of private sector voices calling for immigration reform for foreign specialists as the ministry remains preoccupied with enforcing its updated immigration policy.
That policy has drawn concern from international organizations, including Amnesty International, which has demanded detailed information regarding the policy. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing in March over the government's immigration policy following allegations of human rights abuses.
D'Aguilar said that the issue of skilled immigration is further exacerbated by the country's "enormous" brain drain problem, noting that the perception persists that there are few opportunities for recent college and university graduates looking to return home.
"These bright people stay away, and the only way you're going to attract them home is to allow, in my opinion, businesses that are not here to set up here. Our immigration regime is so confrontational... It's just not done with any common sense," he said.
A 2014 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report revealed that The Bahamas lost 61 percent of its tertiary education population to international jobs.
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