On Citizenship

It’s a funny thing about belonging to a country. We think of it as something that happens automatically, but it’s not. Anyone who’s had to apply for a passport for travel will realize that fact; it’s all very well to talk about being “born dere”, but in fact being a citizen of a nation has far more to do with politics than with birth.

There are many people who are born right here in The Bahamas who would attest to that truth.

You see, the regulations that govern who may or may not be considered a citizen of these Bahamian islands are not things that are handed down from on high. No. They are written in the constitution of the Bahamas, and they are very clear. In short, they go something like this:

You’re a citizen if you were born in The Bahamas before July 10, 1973, and were a citizen of the United Kingdom. In short, anyone who held, or could hold, the passport the British assigned to the Bahamas colony automatically became a Bahamian. You could also become a Bahamian if you were a foreign woman who had been married to a Bahamian.

You’re a citizen, if, after July 10, 1973, you are born in The Bahamas and both your parents are Bahamian or if your father is Bahamian, even if your mother is not.

If your mother’s a Bahamian, but she married a non- Bahamian, and you’re born in The Bahamas, you’re not automatically Bahamian

If you’re born outside The Bahamas, you get to be a citizen only if your father is a Bahamian, or if your mother’s a Bahamian and not married. And if you’re born into a country that automatically confers citizenship at birth, you will have to give up that citizenship when activating your Bahamian citizenship.

And even if everything else is equal, the Government of The Bahamas can, under certain circumstances, revoke your citizenship. It might do this if you are discovered to be in possession of more than one passport, a technical no-no in our scheme of things. Citizenship, you see, is not an automatic entitlement of birth. It’s something that a group of people decides for you, something that a government confers. And in the case of The Bahamas, the rules governing that conferring are not the same for everyone.

Three years ago, the former government held a referendum addressing certain elements of the Bahamian constitution. Some of them had to do with citizenship, specifically with the role of Bahamian women in the conference of citizenship to their children. The present government, recognizing a potential need for constitutional reform, has established a Constitutional Commission to follow up on the subject. And today, with a growing population of resident non-nationals throughout the country — erroneously called “illegal immigrants” — getting themselves in the newspapers by building shantytowns and forming posses and attacking police cars, it’s time for us to reconsider the criteria we use when we’re talking about Bahamian citizens.

I happen to be one of those people who believe that citizenship should be a simple matter of blood or birth. In my opinion, both are sound criteria for defining citizenship. You should be Bahamian if one of your parents is Bahamian, no matter what their sex or marital status; and you should be Bahamian if you’re born in The Bahamas, no matter who your parents are.

Now I know that both of these positions are contentious, especially as most of us appear to believe that we are a nation under siege, a nation in imminent danger of being overrun by aliens. I’m not going to spend much time trying to defend my position logically; the reaction to the position is bound to be illogical, and I’ll only be wasting words.

So never mind the fact that our country is woefully underpopulated — with a landmass the same size as Jamaica and a population that’s one-tenth of the Jamaican population, we could do with more Bahamians, and should be encouraging immigration. Never mind the fact that, like it or not, our society is so structured that it needs sizeable numbers of immigrants to make it work. Never mind the fact that in a globalizing world, the ability to be flexible, to adapt easily to difference, to be cosmopolitan, not insular, are strengths, not weaknesses. Let’s cut straight to the chase.

It seems to me that there’s something inherently weak, something soft, about the way in which we define citizenship in The Bahamas. Bahamian citizenship, it seems, does not conquer anything at all. Rather, it seems a pretty vulnerable thing. One gets to be Bahamian only after meeting a complex web of conditions. There’s nothing simple about our belonging to our nation; there’s no being-Bahamian-by-geography going on, as there is in the USA, or being-Bahamian-by-blood, as happens with Haiti. You’re Bahamian if you’re born of a Bahamian father, if you’re born in The Bahamas, if you’re born before 1973, if your Bahamian mother didn’t marry your non-Bahamian father. If we were dealing with genetic theory here, the Bahamian gene would be classified as curiously recessive.

I can find nothing to be proud of in that. There’s a confidence lacking from our identity, a confidence that is found in the Haitian or the American definition of citizenship. In those countries, there’s a sense of pride, not paranoia, about deciding who belongs where. Unlike us, there are no if-if-ifs about it; you belong by birth or by blood.

I can’t help admiring that kind of confidence, and I can’t help wondering why we imagine our citizenship as being so weak. And so I ask you. Why, then, when deciding who’s Bahamian and who isn’t, have we got all those conditions? Why is it that, when defining who can or can’t be Bahamian, we reveal more weakness than strength?

16 thoughts on “On Citizenship”

  1. I would love for someone to explain to me the part of national policy or security that a teacher/journalist married to a bahamian doctor was in danger of breaking or injuring. Think about it Nico. They had literally placed my application on a shelf and left it there without allowing it to go through the process. If I had not started asking after it and in true Caribbean style got a muckity muck to ask after it. My spouse permit would have expired and I would have had to still be paying for one ever so often. I cannot imagine what the males who marry Bahamian women have to put up with.

    Nevertheless. After you live in a place it becomes your home and you love it. You take care of it and put your all into it. Then to have to be constantly reminded that you is a foreigner vell vait…

    “I need to write a play about the displacement of legal immigrants”.
    I feel homeless and voiceless…

  2. Nadine, I know that in practice things are difficult, but here is what the Constitution says:

    Marriage to citizens of The Bahamas.

    10.- Any woman who, after 9th July 1973, marries a person who is or becomes a citizen of The Bahamas shall be entitled, provided she is still so married, upon making application in such manner as may be prescribed and upon taking the oath of allegiance of such declaration as may be prescribed, to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas:

    Provided that the right to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas under this Article shall be subject to such exceptions or qualifications as may be prescribed in the interests of national security of public policy.

    http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Bahamas/bah73.html

    I agree with you about contribution to the country, by the way. I think that we should all have to qualify in some way for our document of nationality. And I agree that many many non-Bahamians who live here do far more to build Bahamian society than so-called Bahamians.

    Let me stop.

  3. Nicolette… the constitution says that a foreign woman who marries a Bahamian man is a citizen? Chile where? I have been married now for almost 10 years and had to put up with a mess of hassles before i even received a permanent residency status. I have no intention of applying for citezenship due to the hassel i received those years .

    You do not and I repeat do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship if you marry a Bahamian man. You still have to live in the country on a spouse permit for at least 4 years before you get a permanent resident application form. Then if you are Jamaican/haitian you have to wait a thousand years-like I did – before they find your application stuffed away on a dusty shelf -like mine was- [found this out long after]. Plus put up with agressive rude immigration officers [if you are Jamaican/Haitian].

    My thing is not the obvious bias in the country against foreigners [especially the black ones] my concern is people are so concerned with who you are and where you come from that they fail to see the many contributions some of us are making to the country. If contributions in terms of health, the arts, education, finance could be a criteria for citezenship them many of us foreigners would qualify whereas many so called Bahamians would fail miserably. I saw the whole referendum fiasco as people’s rejection of “foreigners” yet again. They thought this was some sneaky way of getting foreigners to be legitimate… I was very disappointed especially in the women. Here it is that Bahamians have children off to school in every major country in the world for years at a time. If they think about it rationally…these are the same kids who are gonna come back with foreign wives and husbands and with children who cannot be fully Bahamians because of the constitution. ladies you might lose your daughters over this…the hassel could send them off to foreign climes where the constitution is not so stupid.

    the ironic thing is that the country was founded by a foreigner Lynden Pindling’s daddy was Jamaican. Now talk dat! Maybe we should blame him for the constitution’s assinine qualities afterall aren’t foreigner’s blamed for everything that ails the country? And for all intents and purposes he was.

  4. WAS BORN IN THE BAHAMAS TO HAITIANS PARENTS,BUT RESENTLY MY DAD BECAME A BAHAMIAN CITIZEN,CAN I BECOME A BAHAMIAN CITIZEN THROUGH HIM? MY OTHER QUESTION IS I’VE BEEN LIVING IN THE U.S FOR THE PASS 6 YRS WITH MY EXPIRED TRAVEL DOCUMENTS AND EXPIRED VISA….,I WANT TO GO BACK TO TRY AND GET MY CITIZENSHIP WILL I BE ABLE TO GET IT STILL EVENTHOUGH I OVER STAYED?

  5. do you have a phone number for me to contact someone on this matter. also can you let me know how long it take for to receive your citizenship. thanks for your response!

    sheldon,

  6. I can’t answer that question for you, I’m afraid. It’s too specialized for a lay person, which I am. Someone in Immigration is going to have to deal with it for you. If your father is a Bahamian you are certainly entitled to citizenship (according to the Bahamian Constitution), but what I am not sure about is whether your citizenship is automatic or whether you have to apply. I am also not sure whether you can be a dual citizen or not. You will have to contact an expert.

  7. I would like to know what do i have to do to become a Bahamian citizen? I was born in the United States and my father is a Bahamian. also my wife is a Bahamian Citizen. Do i automatically become an Citizen since my father is a Bahamian?

  8. wow this is crazy, i was borin in the bahamas, dec 26, 1985 but both or my parents are jamaicans lol recently i tried getting a bahamian passport, they said i have to fill up fro citizenship i wanted to get an idea of how long does it take and what are the chances of they giving me the citizenship….. please some respond my email is bapskim@yahoo.com

  9. Hey, Tiffany. Have you thought about writing to the paper now that we’re engaged in a constitutional reform situation? I find the whole thing a little odd myself, I have to say.

  10. I hear your frustration and you probably can appreciate my strife. I was born outside of the Bahamas the year the Nationality Act was passed, Feb 1973. My mother a non-Bahamian and my father, a Bahamian with roots that go as far back to the Long Island Settlement. Interestingly enough, they never married and it didn’t really matter to me until I was seeking to understand my identity. I’ve been trying since my late teens to understand why the Bahamian Government does not consider me Bahamian even though by virtue of the Legislation Section 2, I qualify. Let us not forget Section 14, that says that if you were born outside of wed-lock then your status defaults to the mother. Which means oh by the way you are illegitimate to us since your Mother as a non-Bahamian never married the Bahamian dude. What kind of set-up is that. My father has since “remarried” and I’ve longed to feel connected to him and my culture, but I can’t help but think that the Government has a had a hand in shaping the perception of it’s people and how they view their own offspring. Don’t get me wrong my father is a wonderful mystery to me but I wonder if he views me as one of his Bahamian own if the Government is denying me? I was hopeful when the referendum was held that the masses would agree with your view. My father’s family goes back many generations in the Out Islands. I find it interesting the passing of the new legislation to the benefit of foreigners to encourage their matriculation into my home land that i am not permitted to claim. You speak of a missing population to fill-out the potential of the Bahamian economy. Well, I’m right here, waiting for the laws to change in favour of the illegitimate, non-Bahamian born, born to non-Bahamian mother, before 1973 Bahamian Citizen.

  11. I hear your frustration and you probably can appreciate my strife. I was born outside of the Bahamas the year the Nationality Act was passed, Feb 1973. My mother a non-Bahamian and my father, aBahamian with roots that go as far back to the Long Island Settlement. Interestingly enough, they never married and it didn’t really matter to me until I was seeking to understand my identity. I’ve been trying since my late teens to understand why the Bahamian Government does not consider me Bahamian even though by virtue of the Legislation Section 2, I qualify. Let us not forget Section 14, that says that if you were born outside of wed-lock then your status defaults to the mother. Which means oh by the way you are illegitimate to us since you as a non-Bahamian never married the dude. What kind of set-up is that. My father has since “remarried” and I’ve longed to feel connected to him and my culture, but I can’t help but think that the Government has a had a hand in shaping my the perception of it’s people and how they view their own offspring. I wonder if he views me as his own if the Government is denying me? I was hopeful when the referendum was held that the masses would agree with your view. My father’s family goes many generations back in the Out Islands. I find it interesting the passing of the new legislation to the benefit of foreigners to encourage their matriculation into my home land that i am not permitted to claim. You speak of a missing population to fill-out the potential of the Bahamian economy. Well, I’m right here, waiting for the laws to change in my favour for a change.

Comments are closed.