What the work permit rules mean
The previous Government’s Immigration policies have been blamed for many of Bermuda’s economic woes since before the onset of the Great Recession and one of the central promises of the One Bermuda Alliance was to reform the policies and make them more business friendly.
As a result, the controversial Term Limit policy was junked, new work permit policies aimed at encouraging new businesses to form were created and processing times were improved. More recently, albeit not because of a direct policy move, it has become easier for long-term residents to gain Bermuda status.
Some of the changes to work permit policies were in fact started under the Progressive Labour Party and were only tweaked under the OBA. Home Affairs Minister Sen Michael Fahy promised that a more comprehensive policy reform would follow.
That policy — Work Permit Policy 2.0 if you want — came into effect on March 1 after a lengthy consultation process.
Much of the debate on the policy has centred around whether dependents of work permit holders can seek employment and changes to protections afforded certain professions such as musicians, but the reforms are much more wide ranging than that.
The big idea in the draft work permit policy released last year — the creation of a Bermuda Employment Visa for employees of international companies — is gone after the international companies who asked for it changed their minds and decided they did not want it after all.
But there are many other changes, most of them designed to encourage the formation of new businesses and the creation of new jobs in order to offset the loss of some 5,000 jobs across the span of the recession.
One sea change is a shift in responsibility for what might broadly be called the good standing of prospective employees from the Department of Immigration to the employer.
A new series of forms have also been designed which should also make the application process a little less cumbersome, which will be a relief to many HR administrators.
Some of the major changes for encouraging business development include:
• A change in the new business work permit, which allows exempted companies to be granted up to ten work permits within the first six months of their moving to Bermuda. Previously they could get five work permits and the employees had to earn over $125,000 a year. Companies requiring more than ten work permits within the first six months will need to present a plan for their projected Bermudian hires and utilisation of local service providers.
• A Global Entrepreneur Work Permit which would give a non-Bermudian planning to set up an exempted company in Bermuda permission to live and work on the Island for a maximum of 12 months while planning the start-up.
• The English language test will only apply to Portuguese nationals governed by the Bermuda-Azores agreement and construction workers.
• The letters of release previously required of employers are replaced by a confirmation of termination simply saying when and why the employee stopped work.
• Elimination of the requirement for a chest X-Ray for most newcomers to Bermuda. Only residents of countries where there remains a risk of contracting Tuberculosis need now get the chest X-Ray. This means people from most Western countries will no longer have to get this done.
The other big change is the elimination of the fast track temporary work permit, which was first introduced to allow for speedier processing of work permits at a time when standard work permit applications were taking months to process.
Instead, three-, four-, five- and six-month work permits have been introduced. These can still be applied for just prior to a longer term work permit being sought, but because the Immigration form must still be filled out, there will be less reason to do this in future. The Department of Immigration believes that because it has improved processing time, there will be no need for employers to apply for two work permits. If that’s right, this should improve workflow, since there will be fewer total applications. Only time will tell.
There’s been some controversy over the easing of work permit processes for musicians, where previously it was quite difficult to get permission for non-Bermudians to come and do work like entertainment in bars and performing at one-off concerts and weddings.
There are good arguments in favour of protecting professionals in a small place like Bermuda, but some consideration also needs to be given to the idea that our visitors want to be entertained according to their interests, not ours, and if someone is planning a wedding in Bermuda which might generate substantial numbers of visitors and money to the Island, and the families paying for it all want to bring the band or photographer of their choice to the Island for the big day, should we really make this so difficult that there’s a good chance the wedding will be held in St Bart’s or somewhere else instead?
If musicians and so on are losing some protection, so do some of the other professions like doctors, dentists and lawyers. There has long been a perception, which the professions will now doubt say is groundless, that the members of the professional bodies have used their right to vet work permit applications to protect their own practices. If that was so, it won’t be any longer as the policy states: “The statutory council is expected to review the qualifications and experience of the applicant and determine their eligibility to work in Bermuda. For the avoidance of any doubt, restraint of trade is not considered by the Minister to be a valid reason for a statutory council to oppose the approval of immigration applications.”
In other words, the bodies will vet the applications — they do not have a right of veto. Can’t get much clearer than that.
One progressive move that has not garnered much attention has been the recognition of partners as dependents in the policy. Since marriage is no longer as common as it once was, this is a timely recognition that a ring is not always required to signify that two people are enjoying a permanent union. If a person coming to the Island to work is able to financially support his or her partner, then they should be able to do so.
Bill Zuill is a director of employment agency Bermuda Executive Services Ltd. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Versions of this column and others are on www.bermudaemployment.com
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