NASSAU, The Bahamas – Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell said, on September 6, 2012, that he is aware and investigating causes and solutions for the reportedly significant slowdown in the processing time of work permits.
“It is, unfortunately, a vexing problem and we have been struggling ourselves with how to come to grip with this issue of the timing of the decisions on work permits, citizenship and permanent resident applications,” said Minister Mitchell, at a press conference at the Department of Immigration.
Minister Mitchell said that the ministry is largely a processing ministry.
When someone comes to the Department of Immigration for a service, pays money and puts in the application, the consumer expects that, within a reasonable period of time, they would get a decision, Minister Mitchell added.
“I was sensitive immediately to that fact and spoke to those issues,” Minister Mitchell said. “We had to strike a balance on the policy level – on the one hand, the needs of the economy to grow, which required outside labour in some cases, and protecting jobs for Bahamians.
“It is not an easy balance.”
He pointed out that, just having quickly reviewed the matter of the applications in question, it is his view that the problem lies in the processing and not the decision-making level.
“The Government is keenly aware of the ‘balancing act’ and of the need for the Department of Immigration to act in a reasonable time period, so that businesses can predict what they are going to face when they are planning out their year ahead,” Minister Mitchell said.
“There is not insensitivity, in any way, on those issues,” Minister Mitchell. “There is a full understanding, from the political level and throughout the Department of what the importance is of immigration – the Department of Immigration – to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and there is no effort to stymie (stump) the growth of the business community and the Department is acting to seek to do the best it can for the Bahamian community, given the job that it has to do.”
Minister Mitchell said that he spent time that morning going through the processing steps and “had a chat” with some of the employees who do the work at the various stages, from enrolment through to the scanning of the data and inclusive of outcome documents being produced, to find out what are the various issues they feel exist.
“There appears to be a significant delay in the point after which someone comes in and pays and is actually enrolled and the ability of the Department to scan the entire file into its database,” he said. “The servers are offsite and there is a link between the Department and the servers and there is now a backlog in applications, in trying to get that work done.”
He said that he does not wish to blame it entirely on that point; but there appears to be a major backlog. He found some applications from as far back as July and one from as far back as November of last year.
Minister Mitchell added: “I am trying to find why those would exist that far back; but, generally speaking, it appears that, if you take June as the average of the ones that I have seen and this is now September, then to me that is still a long time for an application to be in the works – from the time it comes into the Department to the time it actually reaches the Immigration Board.
“We have to do some troubleshooting ourselves to find out why that is.”
Minister Mitchell said that it becomes more the case because there was a policy in place with economic permanent residents, whereby if an individual invested $1.5 million, the application was supposed to be turned around in 21 days.
“From what I see now, that is overly-ambitious,” Minister Mitchell noted.
He said the Department has to be realistic about what they could actually accomplish at that time.
“We have pledged to troubleshoot the issue, to be sensitive to the needs of the consuming public, which includes the business community – but it also includes many, many ordinary citizens who have to get applications approved for live-in maids, handymen, gardeners, for caregivers,” Minister Mitchell said.
“We have to troubleshoot to make sure we can respond in a timely fashion and I regret the fact that it has come to the point where there is a public outcry over this and as Minister and the officials in the Department are pledged to do the best we can to try and rectify this over time.”
Minister Mitchell said they are also looking at an avenue of allowing persons to make their preliminary applications online, through e-Government, which could help in the whole process.
“We have heard the complaints and seek to be as responsible as we can to those complaints because we understand how the public depends on the Department to get its work done,” Minister Mitchell said.