October 26, 2020
With immigration being a high priority item for the Bahamas, the Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Investments and Immigration, Hon. Elsworth Johnson said that the government has recently implemented several measures to improve services at the Department of Immigration, especially to respond to the needs brought on in the Covid-19 era.
In his address to the nation on Thursday, 22nd October, the Minister said that these initiatives are key to the proper running of the agency.
“Immigration remains one of the high profile items in national discussions,” he said “While Covid-19 has impacted operations in many unforeseen ways, we have put great effort in upholding the law, thereby protecting the fundamental dignity of the person and protecting the borders.”
With this in mind, he said that the Ministry has continued with regular repatriation exercises to mitigate a large influx of migrants entering the country illegally. In addition, the Ministry was among the first agencies in the country to introduce temperature checking and tracking upon entry at the agency.
“As our officers are on the frontline upholding our laws, we must ensure that we empower them to do their jobs effectively while keeping them as safe as possible,” he said.
In addition, a cashless transaction system has been introduced at the department, with the implementation of the Immigration Integration Management System, which is equipped to interface with the Treasury and provide access to payment methods for all services. Minister Johnson said that this is a part of the Ministry’s zero-tolerance for corruption.
The Ministry is currently working on an online portal, which will, for the most part, replace in-person services. In-person services and VIP services would be carried out by appointment only via the online portal. Renewal of work permits will be the first of the services to be offered online. It is anticipated that the portal will be available within the next six months.
Another initiative includes enhanced customer service with the restructuring of the Monarch House on East Bay, which will provide a one-stop shop for all Permanent Residency and Citizenship issues, where customers can enrol, pay and collect their documents.
The Ministry will also review the specifics of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum bill, to address longstanding issues of statelessness for those born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents. The Minister said that they are currently creating legislation, which protects the sovereignty of the country while ensuring that fundamental human rights are protected.
The Ministry has also fast-tracked the launch of the Extended Stay Permit Programme, which will allow international students and workers to reside in The Bahamas for 12 months. He said that the government prioritized this programme as a revenue-generating activity as recommended by the Economic Recovery Committee. Other revenue-generating activities being explored include a ‘Rush Services’ feature for a fee for services at Monarch House and charging fees for requests of extension of stay by visitors.
“The Department of Immigration is fully aligned with the Ministry’s future-focused agenda, creating a foundation for short-term recovery and long-term growth.”
By Betty Vedrine