21 February 2007
by Angelo Armbrister
A foreigner doing volunteer work was allegedly arrested by Bahamas Immigration because she did not have a permit to do that type of service in The Bahamas and now other expatriates are nervous and confused as to why they would need a permit to do voluntary, uncompensated services.
One such person, who prefers to remain nameless, wrote to The Freeport News with an account of the events regarding the arrest of the young British woman for not having the proper paperwork for offering her voluntary services.
"As many of us expats do, since we do not have the right to work — whether we are retired, winter residents or are married to some legally employed husbands with the proper work permits — we throw ourselves into volunteer work in one or many of the charitable organizations on the island," her letter states.
"This young woman, who has been giving her time freely to help at The Crisis Centre, the library, and was now helping in a kindergarden for free, was arrested by the Immigration people and has spent the night in jail."
She was told that to be allowed to do any volunteer work, one has to have a letter from the Immigration Department giving their permission, and this lack of letter was the reason for the volunteer's arrest.
"As a retired resident, with quite a large investment on this island, my husband and I have been involved in quite a few fund-raisers," she said, adding that through the American Women's Club, she has been the island co-coordinator for the Women's Auxiliary Nursing Division Services (WANDS) for a few years.
For more than 30 years now this particular organization has been visiting schools across the island conducting health assessment examinations on students, testing the children for vision and hearing deficiencies.
Obviously, the writer explained, "this work requires a lot of women volunteers.
"As anyone knows, it is hard enough to cajole and beg people to give up their time or often their money, but when this story gets out, as it surely will in our small community, it will become nearly impossible," she explained.
The ramifications of this new information she fears are too numerous to contemplate, as it relates to all the organizations where foreign volunteers are involved.
"I personally know of over 100 women involved in one or many of these groups," she revealed.
Meals on Wheels, the Crisis Centre, the Home for the Aged, the Library, the Children's Home, the Adult Literacy Program, the Humane Society, the Red Cross, the Cancer Society and the Rand Nature Centre are among those groups.
Noting that no one she knows has or ever had any permission from the Immigration Department to do volunteer work, the writer said it would be interesting to find out what percentage of foreigners make up the volunteer staff of these organizations.
"Of course, many Bahamians do the same thing and this is not to minimize their input and efforts, but usually they are working and raising their family and don't have the same amount of free time," she explained.
The Freeport News went out into the streets to find out how other persons felt about these regulations and while some felt that it is simply regulations that need to be followed, others felt it would be so discouraging for those that help out when many Bahamians don't have the time or the interest to help.