‘Dublin to benefit from any exodus from Bermuda'

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Bermuda's accountants and lawyers as well as heads of international companies have confirmed that companies will move to Dublin if the term limits for work permits stays policy on the Island.

But no one would go on the record to say so - citing fears of repercussions to their businesses, including delaying or knocking-back of work permits.


Bermuda's accountants and lawyers as well as heads of international companies have confirmed that companies will move to Dublin if the term limits for work permits stays policy on the Island.

But no one would go on the record to say so - citing fears of repercussions to their businesses, including delaying or knocking-back of work permits.

Yesterday Labour and Home Affairs Minister Terry Lister stood by his party's work permit policy.

He told ZBM the PLP had pledged to address the concerns of long-term residents, which it had done through long-term residents certificates.

But he said we “also promised there would be no more long-term residents and we intend to live up to that promise. If they perform well they will stay for six years, if they are exceptional, another three years.”

Local Bermuda accountants and lawyers confirmed that their clients are also looking at their contingency plans and said Dublin appears to be the jurisdiction of choice.

One lawyer said: “Most are not looking at any other Islands also because of the work permit issues. Dublin appears to be the one.”

Another lawyer said that Turks and Caicos would be another option because of the lack of restrictions there, but with a population of just 12,000, the Island's infrastructure is not sophisticated enough to handle many of the companies.

A top accountancy firm senior executive said that he had discussed the possibility of moving jurisdiction with a number of his clients, and Dublin came up time and time again as the favoured location.

“This will not happen overnight,” he said. “But if this continues, we will look around one day and see that they have all gone. Our houses will be worth nothing - huge mortgages and negative equity everywhere - no one to rent our apartments and we will have unemployment for the first time in living memory. It is a sobering thought.”

In an unscientific straw poll of chief executive officers and high-level executives carried out by The Royal Gazette, nine physical presence companies said they were considering their options - which included moving to Dublin, a well-known financial centre with low tax and less restrictive work permit practices. All companies contacted said they had contingency plans and would move if the policy was not changed.

“There are many straws on this camel's back,” said one chief executive officer. “And there are only so many a camel can take. Work permit term limits could be that last straw.”

Another insurance giant company executive said: “This cannot happen. We will not let it happen. If it does, we will leave,” adding that Dublin was the favoured choice for his company.

“It would cost us a month of profits to move, that it all,” said another. “It is not a simple thing to do, but it is not that hard either. It is simple - if it becomes too difficult to do business, we will leave.”

One said: “We will not leave Bermuda, we love it.” When asked what they would do if term limits were imposed, he said: “I think we would love Bermuda a bit less.”

“We have no plans beyond 2007,” said another.

“We have a succession plan, and that does not include staying on in Bermuda if they are allowed to stay only for nine years,” said another high -ranking executive.

Others said it would never happen, and that after the election, the term limits would be quietly dropped. “I don't think we will allow it to stand - or we will all pull out.”

Andrea Mowbray, head of the Bermuda Employers' Council, said they realised that there is a delicate balance between protecting the rights of Bermudians and protecting the interests of business.

But she added: “It should be remembered that a significant portion of the Bermudian workforce is employed within the International business sector under extremely good conditions. If these companies were to start leaving, Bermudian jobs would be lost which cannot in anyway be construed as protecting Bermudians.

“It is the BEC position that protecting relationships with the international business sector will in fact protect the jobs of Bermudians. The reality is that there are some 8,000 work permits out there and there are not 8,000 Bermudians to do these jobs. We are not asking for the rubber stamping of work permits - we are appealing for flexibility so that companies, both local and exempt, can continue to hire employees with world class experience and skills to operate their businesses to the international level that the global economy demands.”

Yesterday morning the United Bermuda Party, who have said they will abolish term limits, told the Chamber of Commerce that under no circumstances did they want to see Bermudians disadvantaged.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said: “One thing we recognise it is more than just being Bermudian that is important. The key is being qualified and being able to balance requirements of employers with the aspirations of prospective employees.

“What we will not do is to automatically project at the end of six years that someone needs to leave a position if they hold a work permit when there is no qualified person who capable of taking it on. It is pointless to us to have someone leave and another person replace them who is foreign. What we will do is monitor and ensure that to the extent Bermudians have been qualified to fill those position.”

At the same meeting Opposition Leader Grant Gibbons called the move “short-sighted” and said it would result in exporting of entry and mid level jobs out of Bermuda.

“We're seeing it already and its happening quietly. Instead of protecting Bermudians who are coming back from school, what it is really doing is getting a lot of companies to say that if there is six year term (limit) we will put those positions out of Bermuda to New York or Ireland or somewhere else.

“Rather than creating opportunity it is really going to reduce opportunity because those are the positions that young Bermudians need in order to get into insurance because you've got to get the experience.

“While the policy may sound good politically, in the long term we think it is counterproductive. We (the UBP) will protect Bermudians through positive schemes and incentives for companies.”

The Royal Gazette was unable to contact Mr. Lister last night.

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