Tuesday, June 05, 2007

COB tuition policy for non-citizens under review

The May 26th edition of The Tribune reported that Carl Bethel, the newly appointed Education Minister, plans to review the policy under which Bahamian-born youth who are not yet Bahamian citizens must pay the foreign tuition rate at College of the Bahamas (COB). This action is in response to concerns raised by Lucien Emmanuel, a Haitian Bahamian student who has been admitted for studies at the Eugene Dupuch Law School this coming September. The Ministry of Education will work with officials from the College of the Bahamas to review this policy.

Persons who are born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents are not considered to be Bahamian citizens and must wait until they are eighteen years old to apply for Bahamian citizenship. In practice, it takes years for citizenship applications to be processed, if they are even processed at all. In the meantime, these young people, typically Haitian Bahamians, remain second-class citizens in the country of their birth. In regards to their education, this can be a major setback as inability to obtain Bahamian citizenship in a timely fashion prevents them from pursuing tertiary studies at the College of the Bahamas unless they can afford the foreign tuition rates. Likewise, lack of citizenship prevents them from applying for a Bahamian passport in order to pursue study opportunities abroad.

Unfortunately, the definition of who does or does not qualify for Bahamian citizenship on the basis of birth is a bit complex. The Tribune article notes that a child born in wedlock in the Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and a foreign father does not qualify for citizenship on the basis of birth. In contrast, a child born in wedlock in the Bahamas to a Bahamian father and foreign mother does qualify for citizenship on the basis of birth. Thus, in marriages between a Bahamian and a non-Bahamian, the children will not automatically qualify for citizenship on the basis of their birth UNLESS their FATHER is a Bahamian.

But wait! Things are even more complicated than this. Unlike children in the previous category, children born out of wedlock to a Bahamian mother and a foreign father automatically acquire citizenship at birth through their unmarried Bahamian mother. Put differently, the law seems to reward the children of unmarried Bahamian women with citizenship while penalizing those of women who are legally married.

Again, those who are born in the Bahamas but do not qualify for citizenship due to one of the above situations must wait until they are eighteen to apply for citizenship, a process that is fraught with difficulties and, more often than not, doesn't have a happy ending.

From a human rights perspective, changing COB's tuition policy to accommodate non-citizens born in the Bahamas doesn't really get at the heart of the problem. These young people would be better served if the government were to commit to processing their citizenship applications in a timely fashion or, better yet, simply grant citizenship to all persons born in the Bahamas without exception. For a variety of reasons, however, such changes will not likely be on the horizon anytime soon. In the meantime, Education Minister Carl Bethel is taking a bold step that, hopefully, will open the doors for Haitian Bahamians and others to pursue their education and, perhaps, lay the groundwork for even bigger changes in the future.

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