By Mellica McPherson
Mr. Elton Georges revealed a number of little known facts about nationality, and status in the Virgin Islands on Monday 29 September at a special sit-down with the press. The media were informed of various issues, and misconceptions as regarding naturalization, belonger status and general immigration matters.
Chief among the mentioned misconceptions was the heavily criticised matter of the status of children born to non-belonger parents. A matter that has been publicly discussed and blamed mainly on the United Kingdom Government who were stated as being the only authority to fix the matter.
However, on Monday Mr. Georges announced that this might not be quite so, as he stated: “Government has great influence over the rate in which people get settled and therefore on the status of children who are born to non Belongers residing in the Territory.”
It was noted that even Government Ministers have criticised the policy. In fact, it was pointed out by reporters that certain Ministers publicly announced that the British Nationality Act is to be blamed for the policy, and should be a thing of the past. In response, Mr. Georges commented that perhaps the Ministers might not be fully aware of the connections. “The British Nationality Act is an act of Parliament that applies to the UK and all of its Territories and you could in theory negotiate with the UK Government…it is not an easy thing to get time in the British Parliament to deal with a legislation. They have to be really persuaded of the importance to do so. I think in the meantime we should do what we can.”
When asked if the situation of the status of children born to non-belonging parents is contentious in all of the UK Overseas Territories, Mr. Georges said that he was not sure: “I have not picked up much concerns in those Territories. Of course, they have different local laws, and procedures as to how they go about things so that might have an effect on it. I have seen in Bermuda that there are some concerns but they also have a racial element to the composition of the population, but no, I haven’t seen anything exactly like…concerns about children born in those Territories I haven’t seen.”
Another matter discussed was the 2004 implemented 20 year resident policy, and Mr. Georges announced that that policy is not supported by law. He told reporters: “This policy is not supported by the current law. It should be changed until such time, and when the law is changed… to give authority for something like this…that’s just my opinion…I have a legal opinion to back it up.”
He added: “When you contrast resident and Belonger status they have encrusted it with all kinds of things to make it difficult. The legislature meant it to be difficult…now a government can make a policy and they can change it…”
Mr. Georges said: “Present operational policy limits residence to person residing for 20 years…This was a major statement it hasn’t been publicly revoked. A couple years ago I put out a report stating that this policy should be retracted or restated.”
Mr Georges said that in his capacity as Complaints Commissioner many of the complaints he receives on the issue of status is the delay associated with the matter. He said that to this effect he did a report on the residence policy and outlined the process, and the point at which the delay occurs.
According to Mr Georges, the residence policy stipulates an annual quota of 25 certificates, and he said the figure is coupled with a backlog of application which helps to create the delay that he receives complaints about. “There is a huge backlog because the Board of Immigration which is a part time body and the speed with which they deal with applications depends on the time that they are able to deal with it, and depends also on the support that they have for staff.”