STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR & IMMIGRATION
INCIDENT SURROUNDING THE DEPARTURE OF AN INDIVIDUAL & SEPERATION FROM AN INFANT CHILD
17th JUNE, 2021
As the Minister responsible for Immigration, it has been brought to my attention that several media outlets have put out information relative to an individual who was asked to depart the Territory, which allegedly resulted in the individual being separated from an infant child. It has also been implied that the latter action was as a result of instructions from the Immigration Department. Though I am unable to share confidential information relative to this case, I would like to take this time to clarify the matter as it has resulted in great concern by the public where the separation of parent and child is concerned.
Firstly, I would like to make it abundantly clear that at no time did the Immigration Department give any instructions or demands that would have resulted in the separation of this individual from their infant child as has been widely broadcasted. However, I will endeavour to give the facts of the case so that clarity can be brought to you, the public.
In July 2020, the individual approached the Immigration Department after resigning from their employment due to the effects of the ongoing pandemic on their current employment. The individual sought to apply for a Conditional Permit, at which time a preliminary assessment of the individual took place. This resulted in the findings that the individual did not meet the requirements required to obtain a Conditional Permit as stipulated by Section 31(1A) of the Immigration & Passport (Amendment) Act (the Act). Conditional Permits are utilised by individuals who are seeking to remain within the Territory while they seek to change employer, or change from a status of residing without the ability to work, to being able to take up gainful employment. The Act stipulates that an individual attempting to change employer should have held valid permits to engage in gainful occupation, for at least five years, preceding the date of the application. The Act also allows for a person seeking to change from residing without employment should have held a valid permit to reside in the Territory other than for the purpose of engaging in any gainful occupation, for at least three years, preceding the date of the application. The individual in question did not meet the five-year requirement for persons who are seeking to change employer. However, after further assessment by the department of the individual’s case and the ongoing pandemic, the Chief Immigration Officer utilised his discretion as per Section 31 (2A) of the Act and approve the issuance of a Conditional Permit to the individual on 11th August, 2020 for a period of three months, as is the customary issue time.
During the three (3) month period, it is expected that an individual would undergo the change of employer work permit processing with the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and subsequently return to the Immigration Department to complete the work permit process. However, the individual and the prospective employer were unable to meet a number of very important requirements of the Labour Code 2010 as stipulated by the Department of Labour and Workforce Development. This resulted in the denial of the work permit in late November of 2020, by which time, the issued Conditional Permit had lapsed.
The individual, after receiving information on the denial of the work permit had not presented herself to the Immigration Department until 23rd February, 2021, three months after the issued Conditional Permit had lapsed. During an interview held on that date, the individual was informed that they had been overstaying in the Territory and the full ramifications for such an offense was shared. Subsequently, the individual was asked to surrender her travel documents, to which she complied. The individual was then asked to acquire a ticket to depart the Territory as she had surpassed the usually allotted time for any reasonable extensions to the Conditional Permit to be issued.
As the department continues to assess matters and seek to identify ways in which members of the public could be assisted during this time of hardship, the Chief Immigration Officer instructed that a further assessment be carried out. This resulted in a further interview with the individual and prospective employer to again assist with the matter. This interview then highlighted the continued noncompliance with the Department of Labour and Workforce Developments requirements, which ultimately resulted in the decision to deny the work permit to remain. Therefore, it was agreed that the matter was beyond repair and the individual was informed that they would have to depart the Territory, as it was clear that no further effort was made by the employer to rectify the matter. Consequently, the individual received assistance with the necessary guidance to regularize the infant child with the other parent as they were residing on a valid work permit. Assistance was also given to assist the individual in acquiring an emergency travel document for the infant child so that they may travel without issue.
One month later, in March 2021, the individual returned to the department indicating that their homeland had issued a temporary travel ban. As all involved awaited the lifting of the ban, the individual received assistance from the Immigration Department and the Civil Registry & Passport Office in acquiring the necessary documents for the infant, as well as information on additional requirements for connecting destinations during their travels. On 28 May, 2021 the individual presented an itinerary for departure and return to the BVI, at which time the passport was prepared and transferred to the Immigration Departments Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport offices to await departure. The individual departed the BVI on 30 May, 2021 without the infant and returned on 9 June, 2021 with a new clearance for employment with the previously proposed employer.
I would like to again highlight the fact that the individual received exceptional consideration and approval by the Chief Immigration Officer for a conditional permit, when they had not qualified, which eventually lapsed due to issues with the employer’s inability to meet the Department of Labour and Workforce Developments requirements. I would further like to applaud the Chief Immigration Officer and his team for assisting extensively with this particular case, especially with the regularizing of the infant child’s status so that seamless travel of the family could take place.
However, it would be remiss of me to not mention again that the separation of the infant from its parent was not the fault nor a directive of the Immigration Department, but rather a decision made by the parent when confronted with a choice related to their travel capabilities. The extraordinary assistance given in this particular case further highlights my ministry and the Immigration Department’s commitment to providing exceptional service while we continue to uphold the laws of these Virgin Islands as it relates to migration and border security.