I have written more than one commentary on this subject. I think that if you stay with me we can come to a place where there is understanding of what has happened to bring us to where we are in these Virgin Islands. Without that understanding, I don’t see how we can reach a fair and just resolution of the problems that make cohesion in the territory an unreachable goal.
In my last commentary, I wrote about some ways in which the 1948 British Nationality Act had placed ancestral Virgin Islanders at a disadvantage. That in itself did not seem to cause any grief in the general population during the 1980s. What people didn’t realise was the irony that the immigrant population was being empowered even as the ancestral Virgin Islander was being disenfranchised, and that was a recipe for a disaster-in-the-making if not properly managed.
The 1948 British Nationality Act allowed for the naturalisation of an alien who had resided in the colony for eight years. In addition, it authorised the granting of citizenship through registration to several categories of people who were not ancestral Virgin Islanders. These included people who were British subjects or citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies and otherwise qualified. (British subjects were citizens of the UK and colonies, and 10 other countries). It should be noted here that before independence or associated statehood the residents of British Caribbean colonies were citizens of the UK and colonies.
The gateway that gave access to these privileges was the status referred to as “ordinarily resident” as indicated in Part II Section 6 (1) (a). I presume that such persons were not subject to immigration control and could come and go as they pleased. This is where questions arise, and I think that the answers will tell us how we got into the mess that we are in.
The most pressing question that comes to mind is this. Should immigrant workers who are required to renew their work permits every year be regarded as “ordinarily resident” in the territory? But for the slackness of the immigration policies, they would have been required to leave the territory on the expiration of their work permits, with an option to return if it turned out to be mutually agreeable to the worker and the employer. That was the policy during the second half of the 1980s when I decided to employ someone in order to help her. This can be substantiated by the then chief immigration officer, Edmund Maduro.
I don’t know how and when that policy went out the window, but it created a monster of a problem because those persons who had their work permits renewed without having to leave the territory see themselves as “ordinarily resident” and entitled. How can that be if you consider another place your home for most purposes? Your investments are there. It is where your family ties are. It is where you vote. It is the place you intend to go back to when it is convenient if you so choose. This defeats the intent of the law.
‘Mistakes were made’
As much as we love those persons who were welcomed and embraced, and who blended in with the VI population, we cannot ignore the reality that mistakes were made. These mistakes were not obvious to the general population when the numbers were small. Now there are enclaves prepared to challenge a Virgin Islander’s claim to ancestry. The ancestral Virgin Islander is embattled, knowing that they can become a dying breed.