NASSAU, The Bahamas — The Hon. Keith Bell, Minister of Labour and Immigration, addressed members of the House of Assembly Wednesday, April 12, on a communication on the processing and repatriation of economic migrants and irregular entrants into The Bahamas saying the position of this government remains unwavering that “all persons seeking to enter The Bahamas, must do so using legal avenues and processes.”
He said: “Any person seeking to enter or remain in The Bahamas unlawfully will be intercepted and sent to their home country. While we could not predict all of the challenges of the past year, upon coming into office, we accepted that more had to be done to protect our borders. This is why, last year, we established a temporary holding facility in Inagua with the capacity to hold over 800 persons to reduce the time required for irregular migrants intercepted in the Southern Bahamas to be repatriated.
“This is also why this administration immediately recruited and commissioned the largest immigration squad in the history of the department, increasing the total number of Immigration officers by over 30 percent. Today, these additional officers play a key role in carrying out the government’s ambitious mandate for the Department,” Minister Bell said. He continued, that the Cabinet has approved the recruitment of an additional 100 officers in the upcoming months.
“Investigations under Operation Restore, a special operation conducted in Abaco, have shown that a significant number of persons are working outside the scope of their permits. The employers are in New Providence or some other island and the permit holders are working outside New Providence independent of their employer,” he said. Additionally, they are also working outside the scope of the grant in that many who were classified as ‘Handymen’ were found engaged working in other classified fields of employment of skilled labour.
From January 2023 to the 31st March 2023, some 81 persons were found on Abaco using work permits issued for employers in New Providence. These persons, Minister Bell said, “were removed from Abaco and in each case, the permit is liable for revocation. To date, 65 of the 81 persons have been charged and convicted.
“Let me at the outset say that while I understand that persons can face delays obtaining the accompanying documents to have a permit renewed if a person is here without a valid permit and without having a renewal application before the Department of Immigration, they will be arrested and deported.”
Over the past three months, Operation Restore has resulted in over $90,000.00 being collected in back fees for processing and document fees from Bahamian employers of various persons being taken into custody.
“The Abaco special operation is one aspect of our ongoing efforts all over the country as part of the Government’s national immigration strategy which comprises three broad pillars:
1. Operation Restore (Enforcement of our immigration laws with our borders);
2. Protection of our territorial waters; and
3. Regional and international Cooperation.
“In keeping with our promise to the Bahamian people, we have been relentless and unwavering in repatriating undocumented migrants and those who breach our immigration laws.”