Remarks By Hon. Vincent O Wheatley
Deputy Premier of the Virgin Islands and
Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration
At the Presentation of Certificates of Belonger Status and Residence Status
December 16, 2019
A pleasant Good Day to each and every one of you.
I want to begin by first congratulating all the persons who will be receiving certificates of Residency and of Belonger Status here today.
This certificate is more than just a piece of paper. It is a statement by the Government and people of the Virgin Islands that we recognise you as a member of our community.
This recognition has come from your having lived amongst us for more than 20 years – and in some cases as much as 40 and 50 years.
During this time, you have abided by our laws, performed other obligations and expectations, and you have made special contributions in different areas. For this, we are grateful and we encourage you to maintain your spirit.
Just to provide some perspective to today’s ceremony, some months ago, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, the now re-focused Department of Labour and Workforce Development, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, the Premier’s Office and the other Government agencies, we launched a series of initiatives that would essentially clear up long outstanding and overdue matters, so that we can reform our immigration and labour systems.
There were applications that needed to be evaluated and actioned. There were also persons who became eligible to apply for consideration of their immigration status. We introduced an option, for applicants who wanted to have consideration of their applications fast tracked.
The audience today is comprised of persons from the fast track programme as well as others whose applications were trapped in a backlog.
From the Fast Track programme some 648 persons will receive Certificates of Belonger Status and 542 will receive Certificates for Residence and Belonger status.
From the backlogged applications that were not fast tracked, July approvals by the board are 129 for Residence and 204 for Belonger.
From these numbers, you can see that the rumours and fear mongering that have been spread by a small handful of persons, have been disproved as untrue, baseless and raw mischief.
But what is more important is the fact that we are much closer to moving ahead with our plans for reforming the labour and immigration systems so that we can protect our Virgin Islanders and ensure that they are treated fairly in the job market and that they are treated in accordance with the law.
As a relatively new Minister of Government – I take no pleasure in saying this but it needs to be said, the situation that the present administration inherited was one that was created by some of our own Virgin Islands people who circumvented the laws, systems and processes for years; to what end, they alone know. But we cannot dwell on this forever and we cannot just leave everyone in limbo.
Over the course of the near future, several initiatives will be implemented that will assist greatly in curbing this kind of activity. We are completing the harmonisation, streamlining and digitisation of Labour and Immigration to provide for better monitoring and enforcement. This will include the full implementation of the online Work Permit system, as well as the Jobs-Board to support our workforce development programme.
When these and other initiatives – such as the electronic boarder control system - come together, we would have a complete system that will better serve the interests of our people. This is the end goal.
And this is part of your Government’s broader mission to create a more productive society that is capable of being competitive in the global environment.
I want to take this opportunity to remind all Virgin Islands citizens that as a family we must stand together. Our Territory is facing many threats and challenges, from assaults on our economic system to climate change and pollution. The BVI is our home, and we must join hands and stand together to confront these threats.
With this new status which you have applied for and was graciously granted, comes some responsibilities. Accepting this new status should mean and I certainly hope it does, that you have accepted BVI’s Values, Customs and Culture, and these are too guarded, protected, celebrated and shared with great pride and enthusiasm. You as new ambassadors will be a reflection of all of us, and we will all be judged by your actions, attitudes and behaviours. We ask you, to take this very seriously.
We as a Government believe we have done the right thing, we ask you to prove us right. We ask you to use this new status not just a spring board for yourself but also for your fellow BVIslanders and the Territory as a whole. This is not a weapon but a tool to create unity, prosperity and goodwill among the population.
As I come to a close on this very special occasion, I want to say just a few words about some of you. Some of you I know very well, some not so well as yet.
I don’t want to embarrass anyone but I would like to say just a few words about two of you, because I think they exemplify what we expect of you, and I can say this about many of you as well.
Kashma Daigneault, I met her quite by accident just a few months ago, a selfless hardworking young lady, this was the lady who donated all the plants for the reopening of the High School, the L. Adorothy Turnbull Building, she grows her plants, sells them and used most of the proceeds to feed the elderly in East End. No fanfare, for publicity just service to her fellow men.
Mr. Gareth Thomas, a very busy person, but hardly ever misses an opportunity to volunteer to do community service, and it does not matter who is doing it, he is there, giving of his time and talent. Embrace us as we have embraced you all for the betterment of these Virgin Islands, a place we all call home.
I encourage you all to immerse yourself in our history, read as many books as you can about us, you are now one of us.
Let me also take this opportunity to extend Christmas greetings to you and your families and to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.
I thank you.