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Virgin Islands migration: the goose & the gander

- Second article reviewing recent news stories highlighting Virgin Islands migration, and the blatant unfairness & nepotism of the system.
Dickson Igwe. Photo: Provided
By Dickson Igwe

An Op Ed of July 18, 2013 in a national Virgin islands weekly was a story headed, "WHERE ARE WE GOING.’’ It was a continuation from a first story, the second part of a two part narrative, the first titled: "TERRITORY’S ECONOMIC HISTORY RECOUNTED.’’ This second story was a lamentation on how the Virgin Islands, "has ended up with a household where her own people are outnumbered.’’ This was a very valid concern by the Virgin Islander.

Now, the very intelligent commentary asserted that migrant workers have been allowed to live in the territory for such a lengthy time period that they have, ‘’become part of the household, and that as a result, Virgin Islanders are, ‘’resentful about the entire situation- they feel unwelcome in their own home because there are so many outsiders in the house making a profitable living while Virgin Islanders are having difficulty.’’

That assertion, notwithstanding its acerbity, highlighted a fact: that in a slow economy, the alien is usually the first to feel the social antagonisms. And that truth was highlighted in allusions made by a leading opposition figure, on a St Lucia radio show of July – August 2013. The politician stated that the reasons for this supposed resentment by Virgin Islanders over inward migration, so vividly portrayed in the article of July 18, are economic.

Ok. The writer of the July 18, 2013 newspaper opinion piece then twisted the assertion roundabout and stated that even migrants, "are resentful too.’’ That they have, "contributed a lot to making the house comfortable but are constantly reminded about their precarious position in it.’’ The commentator described how, "a lot of children have been born in the Virgin Islands,’’ but the country cannot decide, "if they belong to her or not.’’ The writer warned that, ‘’residents from different parts of the world are busy setting up their own little enclaves in,’’ the Virgin Islands.

Now, in the same newspaper of July 18, there was another story. This story focused on solutions to the migration matter. It was a straight news report titled, ’’RESIDENCY PROCESS CALLED A GAME OF CHANCE". This report described how a veteran government official, and a man who would easily qualify to become the first constitutional local governor, were the independence model ever to become reality, stated that it was, "time for a clear immigration policy that will be applied equally, without passion or prejudice, to all who seek residence status in the BVI".  

The high official declared that the country’s migration policy continued to, "operate like a game of chance resulting in extended delays, apparent partiality, and the improper approval of hundreds of residency applications three months before the 2011 election. Some applications are quickly selected and approved, while others are left in the pipeline for years at a time without explanation-. "This spoke of an unhealthy politicization of the process.

The report from this official’s office was titled, "Game of Chance’’ owing to the fact that there was no "obvious explanation for why some applications are processed quickly, while the majority take years”. Interestingly, there was one cabinet rejection under the last regime, of an elderly woman in her late 70s, who has lived in the country for over twenty years, law abiding, good taxpayer, contributing to this community in myriad ways, never committed any legal infraction, that was rejected.

This was simply owing to a vindictive and clearly biased decision by an ex Julius Caesar. It was the only rejection in the country of all applications for status, just before the 2011 election, apparently.

Now this clear inequity was ultimately rectified by the new Julius Caesar: a very fair and just decision of his cabinet, to be applauded. Injustice and vindictiveness are not something new, or unique to the incumbents, as some of the chattering classes of the current press order will love Joe Public to believe. And yes, power is frequently abused by Julius Caesar, and so it is the job of the press to expose those abuses. This has not been part of the press culture in these Lesser Antilles, until very recently. The Virgin Islands press is a super partisan affair politically; apart from a certain weekly best not mentioned.

In any event, to solve this clearly unacceptable inequity in the migration process, the Mandarin recommended policy and legislation that streamlined the process of establishing residency, to ‘’create an impartial, apolitical system that works,’’ and, "remove political pressure for individual approvals.’’

The response from the "political directorate" was open ended as is the way of the political class. It stated that, "the issues of residence and belonger status must be balanced against protecting the rights of BVIslanders and finding fair and efficient ways for other residents to attain such status.’’ However, alluding to fairness in the system was a positive development, considering the past system of approval or disapproval by political dictate and the nuances of a despot.

The final story that spoke to the island’s migration dynamic appeared online on July 18, 2013. It was headed, ‘’VIRGIN ISLANDS LACKS ASSIMILATION POLICY FOR UNITY.’’ The story alluded to a commentator who believed the current migration policy would result in a FRACTURED SOCIETY. The commentator further asserted that, ‘’the Virgin Islands is lacking an assimilation policy with regard to its ever growing population.’’ He stated that all, most migrants were concerned with, was, "getting papers, and legal rights,’’ he added that, "people don’t understand that it’s not just about legal rights and papers, it’s about identity.’’ This was clearly another generalisation typical of a certain segment of the national press machine. However, it held truth.

The speaker alluded to the idea that, "through the process of gaining citizenship, one has to be able to assimilate into a particular identity, which in this instance is the Virgin Islands identity.’’ The commentator, according to the story, drew reference from countries such as Guyana and Trinidad where assimilation too was lacking, ‘’resulting in continued division between East Indian and African descendants.’’   

And yes it takes two to tango. One responder to this online story warned that certain groups in the Virgin Islands were, "very clannish and separatist" that the government should exercise caution over this tendency of some in the population subset to detachment from the national value system. In fact this observer - who is in full agreement with this observation - would go as far as stating that assimilation into the national value system should be a prerequisite for citizenship.

But no, in the past, certain politicians, used migration as a cane to flog some, and favour others. Today the chicken is coming home to roost in a system that is broken and unbalanced.

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