Premier Andrew Fahie delivers remarks at a ceremony on Dec. 16 that granted 852 people belongership status, 129 people residency status, and 542 people both statuses. A self-described “watchdog” organisation is now questioning whether they met government’s stated criteria. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Last week a self-described “watchdog” organisation called on Premier Andrew Fahie to publish the names of people granted belongership or residency status in December — and questioned whether they all met the government’s stated criteria.

In a Jan. 14 email to the media, Virgin Island Voice introduced itself as an “organisation set up to be a watchdog as it relates to issues affecting the Virgin Islands and Virgin Islanders.”

The email explained that the group intends to “advocate for a sustainable Virgin Islands based upon common moral, spiritual and democratic values where Virgin Islanders can contribute to the growth and management of our territory.”

The statement did not include any names, but when the Beacon requested more information about its leaders and members, Claudia Hodge was identified as president.

However, other members have not been identified, and Ms. Hodge told the Beacon this week that she did not wish to answer any questions until the group has done further research.

Ongoing criticism

The Jan. 14 statement continued some residents’ ongoing criticism of the new government’s fast-track initiative for belongership and residency applicants.

The criticism began after the premier’s May announcement that the residency requirement for belongership would be lowered from 20 years to 15. After a public outcry by a group that included Ms. Hodge, Mr. Fahie backtracked, and stated that the residency requirement would be returned to 20 years, but that government would proceed with plans to clear the backlog of applicants who met that requirement.

During a Dec. 16 ceremony, 852 people were granted belongership, 129 people were granted residency, and 542 were granted both statuses.

VI Voice members were not pleased, according to the statement.

“To the dismay of many, after reading in the news that 400 individuals would be granted residency and/or belonger status, which was of itself alarming, many Virgin Islanders and residents were heartbroken that on [Dec. 16], in an unprecedented ceremony, 1,500 individuals were granted status,” the press release states.

It then adds a piece of incorrect information: “Interestingly, to date, there has been no public notification, as is the norm, of how many were granted WHAT status.”

In fact, this breakdown was mentioned at least twice during the ceremony, and it subsequently was published in the Beacon.

Do you support the new government's move to clear the backlog of belongership applications by granting 1,394 people belonger status in December?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Criteria met?

The statement also questions whether recipients met the goverment’s stated criteria.

“There may have been persons who were granted status who did not meet the 20 years minimum requirement,” according to the statement. “We, the people of the Virgin Islands, do hereby request a publishing of the names of persons that have received status.”

The statement also requested a formal review of the list to ensure each recipient met the government criteria, and that “the system remains transparent.”

Government typically provides lists of new belongers on request — they usually include no more than 50 people — but the Beacon’s attempts to obtain the December list were not immediately successful this week.

Officials at the Premier’s Office referred the Beacon to Chief Immigration Officer Ian Penn, but Mr. Penn wrote that he could not share any list.

VI Voice also cited “rumours” that 1,500 more people might get residency or belonger status soon.

Pre-ceremony meeting

The group also noted that in meetings before the December ceremony, “Questions were posed to the premier regarding good governance and whether the longitudinal impact to Virgin Islanders and the Virgin Islands as a whole had been assessed and taking into consideration; in particular the political, social, economic and cultural implications.”

“To this date,” the document reads, “these questions remain unanswered.”

The group met with the premier twice to express these concerns, and according to the press release they were promised another meeting that was never held.

“This group is yet to be given an appointment to meet with the premier,” the statement claimed. “It is clear to this group that concerned Virgin Islanders are not a priority to him.”

The premier did not respond to a request for comment.