Cayman Islands looks to suspend work permit term limits
The suspension of work permit term limits in the Cayman Islands is bad news for Bermuda, according to United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan.
Mr Swan said news that a competing international business jurisdiction has taken a step Bermuda should have considered “long ago” was not in our “best interests”.
Premier Paula Cox defended Bermuda's policy by saying it is more flexible than Cayman's and includes incentives for job makers and the possibility of ten-year work permits. Ms Cox declared Bermuda open for business.
The Cayman announcement was made on Wednesday by Premier McKeeva Bush, who said the controversial seven-year term limit would be suspended for up to two years.
According to the Cayman News Service, the proposal will go before Cabinet next week to allow the Government to temporarily suspend the policy as soon as possible and allow those now facing the policy to apply for another work permit.
The Cayman Government then intends to review the policy and will appoint a committee to examine the pros and cons of the term limit.
Mr Bush said he believes the continuation of the term limit has led to a decline in all sectors of the economy and negatively affected jobs for Caymanians.
Bermuda's six-year term limit policy has been a contentious issue here too, and has been criticised by the Opposition parties as well as international business representatives.
Mr Swan said yesterday: “It was a concern you would hear privately but not publicly as it would not have been politically correct for the principals of international business to openly challenge a government.
“The PLP Government was in denial of this issue and opted for policy that pandered to local politics and less to the industry that sustained the Island economically. The end result has been the exodus of key employees and their families a reality that has had a negative impact on the local economy.”
In July, Ms Cox announced plans to make the Island more welcoming to international business by creating work permit exemptions for some non-Bermudian key workers, with permanent residency available for them and their families after ten years on the Island.
Asked if he felt Government should consider further steps in the light of the anticipated move by the Cayman Islands, Mr Swan replied: “I think Government need to make it a front-burner issue and come up with the best policy. It's not for me to say what is the best policy. The financial gurus in this Country need to make the best decisions.”
Ms Cox stated yesterday: “The benefit of the Bermuda immigration model is that it is dynamic and this highlights the flexibility of our policy.
“It is not enshrined in statute and so more absolute. Our approach differs from Cayman as they embedded their rollover policy in legislation, so it lacks the nimbleness of the Bermuda model.
“In our model the Minister responsible for Immigration can identify any additional carve outs, the ten-year work permit and the incentives for job makers, while continuing to keep the promise to Bermudians that we will not create additional long-term residents.
“This resonates further at this time when the Minister can send people home when their term limit expires to free up jobs for Bermudians. In addition, as work permit holders at the lower end cannot bring their families, many do not have an interest in settling in Bermuda.
“It should be noted that persons in key positions are granted waivers and we do facilitate those that cannot afford to recruit from overseas by granting extensions.
“I do not think that Cayman's actions alone on this front would make us less competitive. The way they process work permits and the cost of work permits has always been a problem for them.
“For example, our charge of $20,000 for a ten-year work permit is less than what the fee is for an executive for one year only ($25,000).
“Their turnaround time for the processing of a work permit is far longer than our turn-around time. They have only started addressing the fast-tracking of work permits.
“Their fee structure is quite complicated. Businesses also have to pay annual fees. Our plans to provide ten-year permits and incentives are way ahead of them. Even the client base is different, with more hotel workers.
“As long as we continue to be sensitive to the needs of our clients and to practice the red carpet approach then we will continue to attract business.
“We continue as a Government to implement initiatives that are friendly to business. Bermuda is open to and open for business.”
One Bermuda Alliance Deputy Leader Michael Dunkley said: “The OBA would waive term limit requirements for occupations and positions that historically receive 90 percent approval.
“This is simply a straightforward step that will help grow the economy and jobs. The Bermuda Government indicated earlier this year it intended a step-back on the issue long one of its core policies but it has not yet done anything. We say: Just cut to the chase and do what needs to be done. Jobs, paycheques, rents and opportunity depend on it.”
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Kim Wilson reiterated comments she made to the Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.
"A part of our economic success is dependent on our ability to attract foreign investment. To achieve this we must all work together to make Bermuda more attractive as an international business jurisdiction. The Government is committed to streamlining its processes to signal and reconfirm that Bermuda is friendly and receptive to international business and that indeed — Bermuda is open for business.
"Therefore, in the coming weeks you can expect that the ten–year work permit policy already approved for implementation will become a reality.
"Also, enhancements to the term limit policy that has been identified as a potential barrier will serve to complement the ten-year work permit policy enabling international businesses greater long-term security and making Bermuda more attractive to existing and new businesses.
"It should be clearly pointed out that term limits were not established to stifle business activity but rather to deal with the issue of legitimate expectation that long-term work permit holders were entitled to residency.
"It was intended that the term limit policy would put an end to any tendency to automatically apply for renewals of work permits without there being a genuine interest in attracting, recruiting and training Bermudians.”
She continued: "Any changes to this policy will come with the expectation that there will be a greater commitment to providing opportunities for Bermudians at all levels within each organisation.
"We recognise that we will continue to need large numbers of guest workers. We know this, accept it and welcome these workers, because they help keep Bermudians employed and help to maintain our economy as a whole. However we also recognise that there must be a balance – a balance between supporting business and the employment of Bermudians.”