In January, 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will open a Consulate General Office in Atlanta, Georgia to alleviate the strain on The Bahamas Consulate General Office in Miami, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Brent Symonette.

The Ingraham Building in Miami houses the Consulate Office, which will be relocated to another floor to accommodate the goals of the Ministry, including processing ePassport applications and other diplomatic functions.

“The Miami office is a very busy office where passports and visas are processed. We are looking at upgrading that with a number of changes,” Mr. Symonette said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains nine overseas offices – four in the United States (the Embassy in Washington, the Consulate General in Miami and New York, and the Mission to the United Nations), the High Commissions in London, United Kingdom; and Ottawa, Canada; and Embassies in Haiti, the People’s Republic of China and Cuba.

Ambassador C A Smith is in Washington; former Commissioner of Police Paul Farquharson is The Bahamas High Commissioner to London; former MP Mike Smith is The Bahamas High Commissioner to Ottawa, Canada; ex-Senator Gladys Johnson-Sands is Consul General in Miami; former NEMA Director Carl Smith is Consul General in New York; career diplomat Dr. Paulette Bethel is the Permanent Representative of The Bahamas Permanent Mission to the United Nations; and ex-Cabinet Minister Elma Campbell is Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.

The new ambassadors to Haiti and Cuba will be announced shortly, Mr. Symonette said. Carlton Wright served as The Bahamas Ambassador to Cuba, and Dr Eugene Newry as Ambassador to Haiti.

Another area of change on tap for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the Department of Immigration. Mr Symonette said that a look at immigration policies is underway to determine whether Bahamians are interested in certain areas of the workforce normally sought by foreigners.

“I intend to meet with a cross section of the community to discuss whether we can accept that there are certain levels of the workforce in which Bahamians desire not to work. We have to come to the realisation that certain sectors of the community workforce are not jobs Bahamians traditionally want to go into,” Mr. Symonette said.

He noted that work permits are being sought in such areas as gardening, live-in maids, handyman, and similar areas.

“Technically, it is illegal to have a work permit for someone and work for another,” he said. “We want to streamline that process.”

The Immigration Board has been meeting regularly in Grand Bahama and New Providence to look at a number of applications for work permits in order to get rid of the backlog of cases, Mr Symonette said.