Azores flight: we have no choice but to leave’
Emotional goodbyes were said at the airport yesterday as scores of Portuguese workers left the island on a special flight to the Azores.
Various reasons were given by the people scheduled to depart for the Portuguese territory.
Some said they just wanted to return home while others said there was a definite chill over the renewal of work permits for expatriates — a charge denied yesterday by Jason Hayward, the labour minister.
Chris Cabral, 29, said as he waited with his cousin outside the terminal at LF Wade International Airport: “I feel upset. I didn’t want to go and I don’t know what’s ahead in the Azores.”
Mr Cabral, who turns 30 next month, added he had been born in Bermuda, but left with his parents in 2000.
Mr Cabral explained: “I lost the right to be Bermudian. I came back to try and maybe get my rights.”
He returned with that in mind in 2017.
The Department of Immigration suggested that he get married, but he had held out hope for other ways to remain.
His cousin, who declined to give his name, said he had supported Mr Cabral since last October, after his employer, a cleaning company, went out of business.
Mr Cabral said he had permission to live in Bermuda and look for work, but that he was frustrated at being unable to collect the back pay owed to him by his former employer.
The pair said his former employer had “promised” to help with getting him a new work permit at a new business, but never did.
Mr Cabral’s cousin said a new employer applied for a work permit before the shelter-in-place regulations were imposed, but that in May it was “rejected because of the climate of unemployment”.
Mr Cabral said he was told “they had to look closely at the applications submitted to immigration”.
“I was given 90 days to settle my affairs and leave the island once the airport opened.
“I was heartbroken and stressed as there was no way for me to leave the island and pay my debts.”
He claimed to be owed $7,000 in wages and had discovered his former bosses “were not paying my social insurance and health insurance, despite deducting this from my wages”.
Mr Cabral, who has spent all his savings, added: “They could have at least tried to keep us for one year, instead of kicking people out. But what can I do?”
One couple on yesterday’s flight had lived on the island for 45 years, but decided they wanted to go back to Sao Miguel in the Azores.
Their Bermudian-born son, who did not give a name, said: “It’s a better life for them, much as I don’t want them to leave. It’s their choice.
“Coming from paying $2,000 a month for their rent here to $500 out there, that will pay their retirement.”
A 43-year-old man headed for Lisbon in Portugal said he had lost his construction job when the company folded and had been unable to find work since.
He said he had lived in Bermuda for 14 years and loved the island.
He added: “It was good experience. I’m prepared; anything can change. I’m flexible. The world has Covid-19 now. I can’t do anything about that.”
The man admitted he faced an uncertain future.
He said: “Right now I can’t tell.”
The man added he would “never travel under my own initiative in these conditions, with the pandemic” and did not look forward to boarding the plane.
But, he said as he bid farewell to friends: “We have no choice,”
João Santos, a carpenter from the Azores, said he had heard talk in Bermuda’s Portuguese community of work permits being turned down.
But he added: “Some people have this problem, but I don’t. I just want to go home. I have a lot of work to do there.”
Mr Santos said Bermuda was expensive, difficult to live in over the Covid-19 pandemic — and that he missed his family.
He added: “I would like to stay in Bermuda.
“The people are good. Maybe, one day when Covid is away, maybe I will be coming back.”
Some landscaping firms claimed that they had had work permits turned down in an industry dominated by foreign workers — or that permits were taking a long time to be processed.
Mr Hayward, who assumed responsibility for immigration as labour minister in June, provided recent figures to show that the industry had not been targeted.
The minister listed work permits denied between April 1 and June 22 in specific landscaping job categories.
Landscape gardeners came top, with nine permits turned down.
Other categories affected were: experienced landscape gardener, two; experienced landscape/hardscape, one; landscape foreman, two; landscape gardener/mason, one; landscape/hardscape gardener, two; supervisor landscape gardener, one — a total of 18 positions.
But Mr Hayward said: “This is an insignificant number when compared to the total number of landscaping jobs in Bermuda.
“Therefore, it is doubtful that work permits have been a significant factor in these persons leaving the island.”
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