Term limits are axed, Govt
‘Uninformed, misdirected and unhelpful’
Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy expressed concern about anti-foreigner sentiment among a segment of the Bermuda community.
Announcing the end of Government’s term limit policies, Senator Fahy said he has grown concerned by negative rhetoric on blogs and talk radio shows directed at guest workers.
“It’s only a select few fanning the flames of negativity, but it only takes one or two individuals for the comments to eventually snowball into something that translates into Bermudians being perceived as anti-foreigner,” he said.
“Some of the comments I’ve heard and seen have been completely unacceptable, and regrettably we don’t have suitable mechanisms in place to properly police some of these anonymous rants.”
Sen Fahy described the anger as “uninformed, misdirected and unhelpful”, but said he believes the wider community has a more balanced view.
“I am quite willing to listen to all sides of an issue, but it does us absolutely no good to engage in a dialogue that’s divisive and counterproductive in moving this country to a higher level of acceptance and tolerance,” he said.
“This country’s diversity is what makes us unique. Our welcoming and hospitable nature is what has made us legendary.
“Are we a country with challenges and issues to address? Yes, but we are also a country with many positives, and if we are to address our challenges in a productive way then we must start from a place of mutual respect.”
Asked about anti-Bermudian attitudes among guest workers, he said the situation was the exact same, noting that there is a provision in existing legislation that guest workers must maintain good character.
“It is the role of the Government to make sure that workers who come here understand the nature of Bermuda, understand that they are welcome here within the realms of good character,” Sen Fahy said. “There is a provision in the act that if people don’t behave in a proper manner than [their work permit] will not be renewed.
“We need to make sure that when we eliminate term limits, which never should have been put in place in the first place, that this is not an excuse to go after people who don’t look like any of us or don’t come from the same place we come from.
“We have got to be sure that we get that message out there that it is unacceptable whether you’re Bermudian or non-Bermudian.”
Government yesterday axed the Island’s term limit policy in a move aimed at boosting the economy.
Announcing the policy change, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said: “We believe that the elimination of the policy will help spark economic growth and create employment opportunities for Bermudians.
“I want to assure the people of this country that this was not a decision that was taken lightly. We will continue to ensure that the rights of the Bermudian worker are a priority for this Government.”
The policy, started in 2001, imposed a six-year limit on most permits in an effort to curb long term residency.
The OBA announced in the lead-up to the general election that they intended to suspend the limits for a period of two years.
Earlier this month Senator Fahy said the policy may be scrapped entirely.
Speaking yesterday, Sen Fahy said that after meeting with stakeholder groups, the decision had been made to end the policy effective immediately, calling it a barrier to job creation.
“The Ministry obtained some time ago legal advice that demonstrated unequivocally the law, as it currently exists, was sufficient to limit reasonable expectation of permanent residents,” he said. “Term limits are not required in any way to do that. Period.”
He stressed that work permits, not term limits, are aimed at protecting Bermudian jobs, and said that the elimination of term limits in combination with training programmes will provide Bermudian workers with greater opportunities.
“I want to reassure all Bermudians, particularly those Bermudians who are currently seeking employment that the elimination of the term limit policy, otherwise known as the policy to inhibit long term residency, will not result in an added burden or obstacle for you as you continue to seek employment,” he said. “In fact, it will likely be one of many tools that this Government uses to create more employment opportunities for Bermudians.”
“I want to remind all Bermudians that every work permit holder is in Bermuda for a defined period based on the length of their work permit.
“When a one, two or three year work permit expires, the job must be advertised. Where a qualified Bermudian applies for the job, the employer must extend the job to the qualified Bermudian applicant.
“To this end, the Ministry will continue to focus on training and development strategies to prepare our next generation of Bermudian workers with the necessary skills and education to take advantage of an increasingly sophisticated job market.”
He said that Government will soon announce new measures aimed at strengthening penalties for companies who breach work permit policies.
“These penalties will affect recruitment practices and the required disclosure of information with respect to qualified Bermudians who apply for advertised jobs,” Sen Fahy said.
He said that in the next few months, those who currently hold work permits will have to sign a declaration confirming their understanding that Bermuda law does not confer rights of permanent residence and that the holder has no expectation of such residence.
He also noted that a refund will be issued for all term limit applications that have not been processed to date, but the refund will not extend to those applications that have already been processed.
Sen Fahy said Opposition Leader Marc Bean expressed support for the abolishment of term limits during a recent talk show appearance, albeit with some caveats.
The Senator said he looked forward to hearing further suggestions from the PLP regarding policy initiatives.
Responding yesterday, a PLP spokesman said that the statement Mr Bean supported the removal of term limits as “erroneous and disingenuous at best”.
“Mr Bean has not declared support for this move in any forum and Minister Fahy is irresponsible for suggesting this,” the spokesman said. “Please be advised that the Progressive Labour Party has not released any statement citing a revision to our existing view of term limits.
“Prior to the December 17 election, the PLP had committed to widespread immigration reform, and those discussions continue within the party caucus.
“Our primary concern is the need for there to be opportunities for Bermudians to ensure career progression and development.
“The Progressive Labour Party understands the need for expatriate workers in Bermuda and supports the policies that make it more accommodating for them to set up employment and to relocate to Bermuda, however, we also must strike a balance between this accommodation and ensuring opportunities for qualified and capable Bermudians are provided.
“Once the PLP discussions on Immigration reform are complete, a statement will be released from the Party stating our position.”
The spokesman expressed concern about the sudden change in policy for the OBA, who promised a two year suspension and review of the policy.
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