In my recent commentaries, I have been imagining the Virgin Islands of 2030 through the eyes of a 10-year-old Guyanese girl named Maria, her older brother Zak, and their father Troy. This week, the VI family’s chronicle continues.
After consuming their traditional Sunday lunch of freshly cooked peasant rice and green vegetables, Troy and his family pushed their biodegradable plates through the wall flap on to the chute to the compost bin outside. Then they reported on their Recreation Day, created after the working week was reduced to four days. Everyone was encouraged to spend some time on it in participating in a live sport, developing a hobby, or improving a skill.
Troy’s wife confessed she had watched a service engineer overhaul the self-cooking ovens. He had given her useful tips on the customisable model she had deferred early retirement to buy. The cheaper, fully automated one was serviceable remotely, but took only proprietary ready-mixed meal sachets, which might become scarce during a natural disaster. All manner of domestic robot utilised the Virgin Islands’ 5G network
Each of them contributed something to making their Sunday lunch special. Maria knew that the only time the cooker had gone wrong was when she had tried to make a fruit cake and had suspended the salt refill over the sugar hopper and vice-versa. However, she asked if everyone had enjoyed the greens she had cut from the family’s allotment on the college farm after checking on their fruit in an environmentally controlled greenhouse.
Zak described setting the fish pots for the species in season. The government had laid down very strict rules about which could be caught — and when and where — in order to protect food stocks and minimise the chance of poisoning. He was working on completion of his Fisherman’s Certificate, which he would need to support his application for a licence to fish as a hobby, before taking environmental studies at the University of the West Indies.
Troy had been following up a fascinating enquiry by somebody who had uncovered an old headstone in a Japanese cemetery which identified the person buried there as a Tortolian. Like all senior civil service managers, he was contracted to be on call for any emergency that might arise in his department, especially during the hurricane season, but he was always conscious of his privilege in occupying such a prestigious post as the territory’s chief genealogist.
He had been puzzled in 2020 by the apparent demise of what had been a vibrant Caribbean family history forum in 2019, as lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic had stimulated so many other online interests. Troy had discovered that its American site owner had fallen sick and retired during a change in its ultimate ownership, so he had stepped in to revive it. By placing the VI at the network’s centre, he had inadvertently ensured his later appointment as a chief officer, being a belonger.
After the 2019 general election, the election observer missions had criticised the constitutionally enshrined exclusion of resident non-nationals from the electorate, so the incoming premier had fast-tracked approved long-time residents into become belongers.
Later, the government was praised for its firm responses to Covid-19. It advised non-nationals wanting to leave the VI because they had lost their jobs to facilitate their re-entry for any new job opportunity by asking the Immigration Department to record why they had left.
However, new belongers watched with dismay as their friends and family, among other unemployed non-nationals, were ordered to return to their home countries or anywhere else that would accept them. They had established their homes and grown old in the VI and may have lost touch with their birth country, having as many close acquaintances in the VI as some Virgin Islanders and belongers. Their children knew no other home.
It was widely believed that each individual’s case should have been considered on its own merits, according to the number of ties they had with the VI (e.g. property ownership, dependants and children born in the VI). Their dismay turned to shock when the government declared that no work permit holders or exempt non-nationals would be permitted re-entry for the foreseeable future.
That provoked such an outcry that the government had quickly reversed its position and announced that priority for re-entry would be given to work permit holders and work permit exemption holders in the next phase of its plan. However, the minister of labour and immigration admitted his concern that it had been difficult to get VI businesses to hire belongers.
Meanwhile, social media became rife with speculation at the underlying reasons for the lockout and subsequent reversal, including a conspiracy theory that the government wanted to reduce the number non-nationals in the VI on the upcoming population census day and a rumour that an English lawyer had complained to his member of parliament that the government was shutting him out of the United Kingdom overseas territory.
Since every other UK OT had agreed to accept public registers of beneficial ownership of their companies by 2022, and the UK had threatened to impose them on the VI if necessary, it is quite possible that the Cabinet could not contemplate provoking the UK into action any earlier.
Whatever else was to be agreed with the UK on changes to be made in a new VI constitution, it had become clear that any discrimination against non-national residents would have to be abandoned.