Premier Wheatley indicated that these meetings are expected to occur before a planned review of the government’s policy on residency and belongership in September.
“So we want persons to to be aware of that and to come and to participate in those meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to develop a policy. We don’t have a properly developed policy,” the Premier told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
He added: “We did have one you could say like a policy statement that was found to be inconsistent with the law, you know, part of the reason why we’ve gotten into the challenge where we are.”
While encouraging persons to do their own research on the subject, Premier Wheatley noted that the law which currently exists has been in place for more than 20 years.
He further explained that this law was passed by a previous Virgin Islands Party administration under the Chief Ministership of the late Ralph T O’Neal.
Premier Wheatley added that the National Democratic Party government took power soon after that law was amended to where it is today. And instead of amending the law, it passed a policy.
But the Premier said residents were told on multiple occasions since the institution of that policy — most notably by the Complaints Commissioner, the late Elton Georges — that the law needed to be amended because the policy was inconsistent with the law.
“So the COI (Commission of Inquiry) has identified and the UK has insisted that the policy is inconsistent with the law,” Premier Wheatley said.
In the meantime, the Premier said while the current law as it stands needs to be enforced, concerns have been raised about the territory being overwhelmed with applications and the likely socioeconomic impact of what he called a “rush of applications” for residency and Belonger status.
“So, I would say to you that it’s important for us to go through a process where we develop a proper policy and that policy must take into account a variety of factors,” the Premier said.
Among these factors, Premier Wheatley listed the BVI’s economy, its social infrastructure, physical infrastructure and educational infrastructure as being noteworthy.
“All of these [are] different types of areas that you must consider when you are growing your population,” he added. “And then we have to come to what I would say is a reasonable, a logical conclusion about how we move forward with residence and Belonger status in a way, in my view, that helps us to be stronger and better and more united as a people.”