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BVI Cabinet approves new Belonger Status and Permanent Residence Policy

13 Mar 2024

On 28 February 2024, the British Virgin Islands Cabinet approved the Belonger Status and Permanent Residence Policy (the Policy), which addresses issues surrounding Residence and Belonger Status.

Following the release of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) commissioned by the UK Government, it was recommended that there should be a review of processes for the grant of residency and belongership status in the BVI, and in particular the open discretion currently held by Cabinet to make grants. A detailed review and public consultation followed, resulting in the preparation of the new Policy, which has now been approved by Cabinet.

The Policy addresses eligibility for Residence and Belonger Status, establishes guidelines and criteria for status awards, and outlines the process for determining quotas. It also addresses children's path to Residence Status and those born in the BVI to Non-Belonger parents.

Importantly, the Policy emphasises the need to manage immigration, Permanent Residence and Belonger Status to avoid straining educational, health, and physical infrastructure, as well as to mitigate social tensions, economic competition, and loss of opportunities. It aims to balance various factors to effectively manage immigration, population growth, and economic concerns.

We have set out some of the key takeaways from the new Policy below.

Eligibility for Residence and Belonger Status

The immigration reform aims to align law and policy for Residence and Belonger Status in the BVI. The two concepts should not be confused, with Residence Status being the right to regularly reside in the BVI only; it does not automatically create the right to citizenship or Belonger Status. Belonger Status is similar to citizenship, and signifies that the person becomes deemed to belong to the BVI. Both statuses offer enhanced rights to general visitors or entry permit holders in the territory.

A core pillar of the new Policy is that applicants must reside in the BVI for ten years to apply for Permanent Residence. To be eligible to apply for Belonger Status, the individual must reside in the BVI for 20 years (while holding Residence Status for a minimum of ten years). As of now, the application process considers character, skills, and adherence to local laws.

Residents may need to renew their Residence Status certificates every five years to maintain residency, allowing monitoring of adherence to legal standards and progress towards Belonger Status. The intention is to ensure that residents actively contribute to and respect the values and laws of the BVI, promoting responsible progression towards Belonger Status.

Endorsed children path to Residence Status

Individuals who have resided in the BVI for at least ten years, attended educational institutions, and were endorsed on a parent's Certificate of Residence Status may qualify for Residence Status upon turning 18. To qualify, they must have a clear police record, demonstrate good character, and apply six months before their 18th birthday. These individuals can continue residence temporarily while their status is processed, remaining endorsed with a parent for up to a year.

Children born in the BVI to Non-Belonger parents

Children born in the BVI to Non-Belonger parents, who ordinarily reside in the territory, may be granted Residence Status at birth and become eligible for Belonger Status at age 18, regardless of parental status.

Permanent Status and Belonger Status quotas

Immigration quotas are a recurring theme in the proposed governance framework, serving as a policy tool to regulate the inflow of foreign nationals into the BVI.

The Policy does not currently list such quotas, but confirms that these will be established through collaboration among various government entities, including the Cabinet, Ministries, the Board of Immigration, and the Department of Labour and Workforce Development.

What next?

At this time, the Policy is in its infancy stage and it remains to be seen how swiftly the Policy will be enforced, and whether corresponding legislation or guidance will be drafted to reflect its content, or amendments made to the Immigration Act.

There also remains some open questions, including the impact on ‘live’ applications for both Residence and Belonger Status currently awaiting review or approval, as well as the treatment of individuals who have been in the BVI for nearly or over 20 years but have not yet applied for Residency or Belonger Status. Without explicit reference to these individuals, the new Policy could prolong their eligibility period for Belonger Status to 30 years or more due to the requirement to hold Residence Status for 10 years.

Despite these outstanding queries, the Policy provides some helpful clarity on the direction of immigration applications in the BVI.

The content of this article intends to provide a general guide to the new Policy. If you have any specific questions regarding your immigration status in the BVI, or would like our assistance with Residence, Belonger or other immigration applications, please contact the Harneys Private Wealth Team for further assistance.