Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has stated categorically that residency in the Virgin Islands is a privilege and not a right so time spent in the territory cannot be the sole determining factor in granting Belonger status.
In a live statement earlier today, the Premier acknowledged that immigration reform as one of the most sensitive topics that must be addressed in the territory. He said a discussion must commence on what is in the best interest of the Virgin Islands
beginning with granting Belongership.
The Premier explained that like most countries, the Virgin Islands
has an immigration regime in place to grant residency to people who have been living, working, and participating in community life in the territory.
“However, residency for Belongership is a privilege, not a right. It is important to make this clear and because residency for this purpose is a privilege, not a right, the government has developed arrangements to determine who deserves that privilege. Here in the Virgin Islands
, residency for Belongership is not automatically granted based on the duration of time spent in the territory,” Dr Wheatley said.
“The number of years spent cannot be the sole determining factor in granting Belongeship. Patriotism, sound knowledge and history of the Virgin Islands
and your social and civic contribution to society are all very important factors. Residency and Belongerships are privileges that must be earned,” the Premier added.
He explained that the socioeconomic dimension must also be considered when granting residency in terms of what the society can reasonably accommodate and sustain over time.
Dr Wheatley mentioned that over the years, various governments have instituted different arrangements to determine who has earned the privilege of residency for Belongership.
“The existing eligibility criteria contained in the Immigration and Passport Act was put in place over 20 years ago… This law permits a person to apply for residency for Belongership for as early as 10 years of living in the territory. A subsequent government that saw the amended law as open-ended, convoluted, and unsustainable because it would change the social and political landscape of the Virgin Islands
, adopted a policy in Cabinet in 2004 that doubled the duration of time to 20 years before an application for residency for Belongership could be made and limited the number of persons that could be approved annually for residents to 25,” the Premier said.
He added the legality of the policy has been questioned several times. The first was by the Complaints Commissioner as early as 2013 because of the inconsistency with the law. The Premier added that the policy’s contradiction was also captured in the annual report of the International Ombudsman Institute 2012-2013.
“This problem was also picked up in the Commission of Inquiry
. The Commission of Inquiry
report recommended a review of the existing residency policy and processes for granting Belongership status including the open discretion by Cabinet to grant such statuses and the length of residence required for Belongership amongst other things,” Dr Wheatley said.
“Where we find ourselves today is that we have an immigration law on the book that allows for applicants to apply for residency for the purpose of Belongership after 10 years and sets no set limits on how many applications can be approved per year. We also have had a policy in place for some time that is inconsistent with the law because it doubles the time for application for residency for Belongership and severely limits the number of approvals per year. Both the existing law and longstanding policy are not fit for purpose and have been the cause for much confusion,” he added.
He noted that while applications for residency can be submitted as early as 10 years under the law, there is a process that must be followed to consider whether applicants have earned the privileges of being granted residency.
“Previous governments have failed to amend the law of change policy as previously recommended but the Government of National Unity will do so in a manner that is clear, fair and in a manner that is socially and economically sustainable. However, we are not going to make any legislative changes unless we consult the people,” Dr Wheatley said.