Immigration changes mark significant step forward

EXECUTIVE Council last week agreed several issues relating to immigration which included a series of detailed policies on Visitors permits, Work Permit Policy and Permanent Residence Permits.

In a paper outlining the background the to the decision making, Head of Policy John Shea said the Falklands was displaying stagnant population growth, a declining population in Camp and an aging demographic. 

“These factors present serious economic, political and cultural threats to the long-term viability of the Falkland Islands. Repeated attempts to address issues of immigration reform in the past have consumed significant resources and have met with minimal success, and the Islands are left with an immigration system that is often confusing (for both migrants and officials), loop-holed and inadequate for the stated goals of the political leadership,” said Mr Shea.  
The three papers put before ExCo were the agreed outcome of over a year’s work of the Immigration Review Group and its seconded immigration policy officer. 

“They do not cover all aspects of the FI immigration system or in themselves solve larger issues related to population growth and economic development – these two areas will move forward through the Population Growth Strategy and the updated Economic Development Strategy - but they do move the Falkland Islands closer to the stated positions on immigration reform and as such represent a significant step forward,” said Mr Shea.

The first substantive paper proposed a series of detailed policies on Visitors Permits (including temporary work permission for visitors) and Family Visitors. Members agreed the maximum cumulative period of stay for visitors should be six months in any 12; that temporary work permission could be granted to visitors in certain circumstances; that Family Visitors could stay 12 months in any 24; that they too could obtain Temporary Work Permission in certain circumstances, that the Family Visitor Permit is subject to pre-clearance requirements, and that there could be in-country switching from visitor or family permit to work permit status. These policies will now proceed to drafting, and the paper is published with full details.

The second immigration paper covered Work Permit Policy. MLA Mike Summers said this included a proposal to create a Skills Assessment Council whose principle task would be to assess shortages in the workforce, and to recommend changes to the points system to target key shortages.
 
Members also agreed that the maximum work permit period could be extended to four years; that there would be three permit types (skilled, general and seasonal); that there could be movement within these without the need for additional permits; that there could also be self-employed and volunteer permits; that the 30 day concession at the end of a permit be clarified; there could be in-country switching between permit categories, and that there be some new powers of revocation or refusal. This paper too is published with full details.

The third immigration paper dealt with future policy on Permanent Residence Permits (PRP’s), which are seen as the gateway to Status. 

Under the new policy a PRP holder can only apply for status after four years of holding a PRP, though there are some transitional arrangements for existing long term residents. Some of the existing criteria on absence are relaxed. 
MLA Summers said the points system was to be amended to make it more responsive to current needs, setting the threshold at 50, and including partners as point contributors on a limited basis. 
A new category of short term Dependent Permit was also introduced. 

MLA Summers said Members were keen to ensure this does not prejudice or discourage couples applying on an equal basis. This paper is also published with full details. Go to www.fig.gov.fk/assembly/index.php/public-papers/executive-council-papers

The Immigration Review Group was formed in 2010 to undertake a strategic review of the immigration system in the Falkland Islands. The IRG was preceded by an Immigration Policy Working Group (formed 2006) and an Immigration Policy Advisory Committee (IPAC – 1993). The IRG consists of the Head of Policy, Head of Legal Services, Chief Immigration officer, the two MLAs with the portfolio and others as required (i.e., drafters, medical officials, etc).