Headline — 31 August 2012 — by Adele Ramos
Belize looks at new immigration policy

Guatemalans will have to seek formal acceptance of their renunciation from their home government, said Minister Hulse

 BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 29, 2012

Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development, National Emergency Management and Immigration, Godwin Hulse, announced on KREM on Tuesday night that the Government of Belize is in the process of formulating a new immigration policy that will, among other things, address the nationalization of Guatemalans who become citizens by registration, either by marriage or by meeting the 5-year residency requirement.

Earlier this year, former Immigration Minister Carlos Perdomo had said that there is provision in the law for Guatemalans to be accepted as citizens in Belize, but only if they renounce their Guatemalan nationality, and they do so by signing a declaration that is kept on file.

According to Minister Hulse, there is another critical requirement that as far as he is aware, had not been properly applied to those who acquire citizenship via registration: that is, official confirmation from the Government of Guatemala that they have accepted the renunciation by the persons who want to become Belizean citizens instead.

Hulse contends that Section 19 of the Belize Nationality Act has not been properly applied. That section says that, “…where any person purports to renounce citizenship of any country for the purpose of acquiring, retaining or resuming, under any provision of this Act, the status of a citizen of Belize, and it is found at any time that the renunciation was not in accordance with or not effective under the law in force in that behalf in such other country, that person shall be deemed never to have acquired, retained or resumed, under that provision, that status of a citizen of Belize; and if the Minister makes a declaration to that effect in any such case, the declaration shall be final.”

Immigration data reveal that between 30% and 40% of persons who received Belizean nationality during 2011 and 2012 are Guatemalans—a trend that has persisted for several years. Hulse indeed conceded that the figure for the amount of Guatemalans receiving nationality is always the highest.

Hulse maintains the view that “Guatemalans can’t be citizens of Belize,” because of the stipulation in the Belize Constitution that puts a bar on persons from countries which do not recognize territorial integrity of Belize. He said that for a Guatemalan to become a citizen of Belize, he or she can no longer be a citizen of Guatemala, and their denunciation must be accepted by Guatemala to be valid.

Hulse said that the Government is coming out with a clear immigration policy, and they are getting proper legal advice from the Solicitor-General. When the policy draft is complete, said Hulse, they will take it to Cabinet and then publicize it. The Prime Minister, he said, is supportive of a proper immigration policy.

Each and every one of those citizens has to ensure that the Guatemalan government has renounced them, Hulse said, adding that they will require whatever supporting document comes by statute from Guatemala.

“Anyone subsequently holding a cedula [ID] or passport or any document of Guatemala automatically loses Belizean citizenship,” he said.

He noted that many of the persons from Central America seeking to migrate to Belize seek work in rural agricultural industries. They fill jobs that some industry reps have argued are not wanted by Belizean citizens, said Hulse.

The Minister emphasized the need for Belizeans in urban centers to start looking at rural agriculture as a possible avenue to fill the employment gaps that exist; otherwise, he said, “We would have fulfilled the promise of one very devious Guatemalan president who said he is going to push the Black people and expand the cemetery and all we who are in City, in Dangriga Town and Belize City, will be only here and the whole countryside will be occupied by former citizens of Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, etc., and Chinese businessmen and your other Asian businessmen. We would have given up the country, given up the gold, given up what is dynamic and said, ‘Look what they have done to us!’”

(Author’s Note: Earlier this year, Director of Immigration Ruth Meighan had reported that 1,098 new citizens were sworn in during 4 ceremonies conducted in January 2012. We observed that the data Minister Hulse presented from the Immigration Department last night gave a tally of 466 citizenships for January 2012. Asked to explain the difference in the numbers, Minister Hulse said that the swearing-in sessions are not held every month, and the January 2012 figure would have been from an accumulation of citizenships granted in prior months.)

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