In the coming weeks the Government of the Virgin Islands intends to host a series of public consultation meetings to facilitate discussions with residents on the issue of immigration reform in the territory.

Premier Dr. the Honourable Natalio Wheatley broke the news to the press during a recent engagement and revealed that it is the hope of the government that a full cycle of these meetings can take place ahead of the planned review of the existing policy on residency and belongership due to take place this coming September.

“Before September, ahead of the review, we’re going to be launching a series of meetings as it pertains to discussions on residency and belonger status. We want people to be aware of that and to come in to participate in these meetings”, he said.

According to Premier Wheatley, the intention for these meetings is to provide a space for the public to be actively involved in the development of a modern, immigration policy that will be consistent with the existing laws surrounding the matter.

He explained, “We don’t have a properly developed policy. We did have one, you could say a Policy Statement, that was found to be inconsistent with the law. That’s part of the reason why we’ve gotten into the challenge, where we are, and it’s important to note that the law that currently exists… has been in place for over 20 years… It’s nothing new, that law has existed on the books”.

While encouraging members of the public to familiarise themselves with the history surrounding this matter, Dr. Wheatley explained that the existing law was passed under late Chief Minister Ralph T O’Neal.

The policy was changed under NDP but law never updated

When the National Democratic Party Government took power soon afterwards, he explained, they moved to pass a policy to change eligibility requirements but did not amend the existing law.

“The National Democratic Party Government took power soon after the that law was amended to where it is today and, instead of amending the law, they passed a policy and we were told on multiple occasions, most notably by Complaints Commissioner the late Elton Georges that we had to amend the law because the policy was inconsistent with the law. So the COI has identified, and the UK has insisted that the policy is inconsistent with the law and that the law needs to be enforced”, he said.

Premier Wheatley said that with this process comes a great deal of concern from members of the public of the possibility that enforcement of the eligibility requirements of the law threatens to overwhelm the territory’s ability to process applications and the ability to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of a rush of applications.

In the face of these concerns, the premier said, “It is 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 including of course our economy, our socioeconomic infrastructure, our physical infrastructure, our educational infrastructure. All of these different types of areas that you must consider when you are growing your population.”

Premier Wheatley said he hopes to ultimately come to a “reasonable, logical conclusion” about how the territory will move forward on the matter of immigration reform.