Immigration and National Insurance: “These two critical institutions play key roles in the fabric of our nation and touch the lives of every Bahamian, permanent resident, investor, expatriate worker, and tourist in the Bahamas,” said the Hon. Alfred Sears, Minister of Immigration and National Insurance.  Minister Sears was making his contribution to the mid-year budget on Thursday, March 7, 2024 in the House of Assembly.

“It is therefore incumbent upon us to ensure their efficiency, integrity and responsiveness to the needs of our people,” said Minister Sears.  

“The National Insurance Board (NIB) stands as the foundation of our social welfare system, providing critical support to Bahamians in times of need.” In fact, Minister Sears said, “it would be true to say that if it were not for NIB so many of our citizens would not have survived through Hurricane Dorian and COVID 19.  For example, between 2019 and 2021, the government through NIB, provided income supplements and unemployment assistance to thousands of Bahamians totaling $120 million and NIB itself paid out unemployment benefits of $131.5 million.”

In its 50 years of existence, NIB has protected employed and self-employed persons by offering a wide range of social security benefits of three main types: ‘short-term’ (sickness, maternity, funeral, unemployment); ‘long-term’ (retirement, invalidity, survivor benefit); and ‘industrial’ (medical care, injury, disablement, death) benefits.  The board also administers the National Prescription Drug Fund, which helps individuals access essential medications for chronic diseases.

The 11th Actuarial Review of NIB highlights the importance of implementing reforms to ensure the long-term sustainability of NIB. The Review recommended that a significant increase in the contribution rate is required to pay the full benefits in 2028. This underscores the need for collaborative efforts from all stakeholders, including the government, the private sector, and the public, to address these issues and secure the future of NIB for generations to come, said Minister Sears.

Therefore, effective the first Monday of July 2024, the contribution rate for NIB will be increased by 1.5%, to be shared equally between the employer and the employee, and thereafter a 1.5% increase every two years from July 1, 2024 to July 1, 2044.  Similarly, the same increase will be applied to self-employed persons and voluntarily insured persons.

He said, “this gradual increase in the rate of contribution will enable NIB to continue providing its vital services and benefits to our citizens and workers.  It is projected that from 2030 onwards, NIB will begin to experience a surplus when the total income will exceed the projected expenditure. It will help us to maintain the sustainability and effectiveness of NIB, ensuring that it remains a reliable support system for everyone in our beloved nation.”

The Department of Immigration, Minister Sears said, plays an important role in exercising the sovereign power of the state in determining who to admit into the country and the conditions upon which they can live, work or do business in The Bahamas.

“As an island nation, we are particularly vulnerable to challenges such as illegal immigration and human trafficking. The 9 million tourists who visited The Bahamas last year, had to pass the scrutiny of an Immigration officer, in defence of the national security of the nation. It is therefore essential that we provide the Department of Immigration with the resources and support needed to carry out its statutory mandate effectively.”

He noted, the reforms being pursued include employee training programs to improve customer service and efficient enforcement of the Immigration Act and Bahamas Nationality Act and Regulations as the only ways to combat migratory trends that The Bahamas and other countries continue to face, whether it be legal or illegal entry.  And men and women at the border have heightened border controls and ramped up enforcement efforts, which have resulted in yearly outperforming revenue and an increased number of repatriations.

“At the outset, I commend the Department of Immigration, the Immigration Board and all colleagues for their extraordinary work in increasing the revenue generated and enhancing the efficiency of our immigration processes. According to the Finance Officer 1, Ms. Althea Smith, the fiscal period spanning from July 1, 2023 to 31st January 2024, the Department of Immigration has successfully collected: $65,741,399.38; compared to $62,575,183.00 collected in July 1, 2022 to January 31, 2023. This achievement reflects the collective efforts of the Department and its commitment to financial accountability and efficiency,” said the Minister.

Looking ahead, projections for revenue generation for the remaining months of this fiscal period are positive, he said.  “If all factors remain constant, we anticipate that the Department will surpass its performance from the previous fiscal period of 2022/23. This anticipated success will be due to the continuing commitment of the Department of Immigration in improving the performance, operations and maximizing revenue generation.

“There is significant progress being made by the Ministry and Department of Immigration to strengthen the Human Resources operations of the Ministry.”

Minister Sears said, “currently, the Department is in the process of screening and vetting 100 trainee immigration applicants. This rigorous process is essential to ensure that the Department selects individuals who are not only qualified but also dedicated to upholding the professional and ethical standards of the Department. The first batch of 30 potential trainees has already been processed and we anticipate that they will commence training as early as this month. These new officers will play a critical role in enhancing the capacity of the Department and ensuring that the Department can meet our obligations effectively.

“In addition to the recruitment of new officers, the Department has also been focusing on revamping its HR operations. One of the key initiatives has been to update employee files to regularize employment, recommend the award of increments, reclassification, confirmations, and promotions. This project is progressing well, thanks to the efforts of the project team assigned from the Ministry and the Department under the leadership of Acting PS Sharon Pratt Rolle.”   

By STIRLING STRACHAN/Bahamas Information Services


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