The Bahamas Government has signed a contract with Indusa Global, a Greenville, South Carolina-based information technology development and consulting firm, for an estimated $12.7 million to provide four systems under a project to upgrade passports and other travel documents. The project includes an ePassport issuance system, a Machine Readable Visa system, an E-Identification issuance system (smart cards for holders of work permits, spousal permits, home owners residence permits, permanent residence), and a Border Control Management System. It is an integrated project that involves the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration, and the Data Processing Unit of the Ministry of Finance.
The ePassport was officially launched on December 5, 2007 in a move to increase protection against identity theft, heighten aviation security and combat illegal immigration. At that time, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon. T. Brent Symonette said: *”The security of our identity and travel documents is of paramount importance to us. We must ensure, therefore, that our passports and visas are resistant to fraudulent use, including the use of lost or stolen passports.”* The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), of which The Bahamas is a member, had mandated that countries issue the ePassport or Machine Readable Passports by 2010.
The Deputy Prime Minister now anticipates that the $6.2 million electronic work permit system, the remaining portion of the project, will be launched by July 1 of this year. He says, *”We have been using the system for several months now to issue test eWorkPermits while we ensure it works properly before it goes live.”*
Similarly to the ePassport system, the eWorkPermit system will require a change in legislation and Deputy Prime Minister Symonette indicates that the government will be putting this before Parliament very soon. The new system will mean the end of the paper permits, which will be replaced with fraud proof electronic work permits. The Deputy Prime Minister said this brings enhanced efficiencies in the processing of work permit applications, streamlining the policing of immigration, and generating statistics. *“We will continue issuing paper permits for New Providence and Freeport for a few months, but by the end of the year we should be fully electronic.”*
Under the electronic system Immigration Officers will be able to access the specific information for an individual on the spot by way of a personal digital assistant (PDA), or other handheld device, and confirm whether or not he/she has a work permit. “*We are aiming for July 1st to go live barring any last minute hitches and we believe this will have a very positive effect on the immigration process,”* concluded the Deputy Prime Minister.