The House of Assembly passed the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) (No.2) Act, 2019 on Aug. 1 after it was considered clause by clause through a committee of the whole House.

Legislators said the law simplifies the process of applying for belongership, which is only available for expatriates who have lived in the Virgin Islands for at least 20 years after public outcry recently forced government to back down on a plan to drop this limit to 15 years.

The act also allows “thirdgeneration BVIslanders” living abroad to be included in the ongoing belongership “fast track programme,” legislators added.

Premier Andrew Fahie defended the inclusion of this group from criticisms that such people don’t have a sufficient connection to the territory.

“Those who want to come home to the land of their ancestors should not have obstacles thrown in their way,” he said. “Those who do not want to come back will not be bothered to apply.”

He also said that more immigration actually benefits the territory, which needs more people than the small population can provide to support industries like construction and the marine sector.

“We often overlook what we gain from the people who are productive whom we invite to live among us,” he said. “We look at what they gain but we do not always proportionately look at what we get in return. We can’t run from the fact that we need manpower to get things done to move our territory to the next level.”

He added that if the territory needs more manpower to sustain itself, then it should give preference to those with Virgin Islands heritage to increase the “indigenous manpower pool.”

Thirdly, he said that returning generations of descendants will inject wealth into the territory, generating direct economic returns as well as job opportunities.

During a lengthy debate, members largely spoke in support of the bill and of including long-time expatriates and VI descendants into the territory.

Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley touched on the importance of encouraging a culture of contribution to the VI and an appreciation of its history.

“Whether you have bloodline back to slavery, whether you have recently joined the BVI family, it’s not all about ‘I want, I want, I want,’” he said. “Our community — when it’s dirty, do you feel an obligation to clean it? Do you say, ‘This is my community’?”