A step in the right direction
Reaction to the Government’s release of details of the Economic Investment Certificate policy has run the gamut.
Supporters of status for long term residents are disappointed that the policy does not go further. There has been criticism that the policy seemingly rewards people who have yet to do anything for Bermuda while ignoring those who may have already contributed far more over a lifetime.
Some in the One Bermuda Alliance are probably looking on in bemusement at the quiescence that has greeted this policy, believing, probably rightly, that the People’s Campaign and unions would have been out in the streets if it had been produced by the OBA.
In fact, response has not been entirely quiescent. The hypocrisy of the Progressive Labour Party in general and of Jason Hayward, the co-founder of the People’s Campaign and now the Labour Minister in particular, has been noted on social media and no doubt around dinner tables.
But there has been no outrage. In part that may be because only the PLP has the credibility – and the political muscle 30 seats in Parliament provides – to bring about this kind of change.
It will also be argued that what is on offer is different from the Pathways to Status policy that led to protests and the OBA’s 2017 election defeat.
There is some truth to this. The policy does not give an investor who puts $2.5 million into Bermuda status. But it does give that individual the right to work in Bermuda without a work permit and after five years’ residence, the right to permanent residence – effectively everything short of a vote.
The EIC holder’s spouse and dependents would also have unlimited right of residence after five years although they would still require a work permit if they wished to be employed.
Thus, this policy is different from Pathways to Status and also differs from previous policies that either allowed residence on condition the individual not work, or encouraged job creation but without any certainty of long term residence.
So this policy is simpler and more straightforward. It is also designed to encourage desperately needed investment in Bermuda.
Mr Hayward and his government colleagues will also argue that times have also changed since 2016 when they opposed liberalisation and called for comprehensive and consensus-based immigration reform.
But while the pandemic had made Bermuda’s economic situation much worse, especially for tourism-related businesses, it has only accelerated Bermuda’s problems, both demographic and economic.
What has changed is the PLP’s acceptance of this and its belated recognition that a declining birthrate and longer lifespans are creating, as has been noted here before, a demographic time bomb.
At the same time, the need for direct investment in the Bermuda economy is greater than ever.
While the economist Nathan Kowalski and the Chamber’s Dennis Fagundo have both criticized this policy for being too little too late, it is also better late than never.
If it has taken Mr Hayward and his colleagues a long time to recognise that investors are not beating a path to Bermuda and that Bermudians who have left the island are not falling over themselves to return, then so be it. What is important is that it is recognized now.
To that extent, the EIC, like the digital nomads, is a step in the right direction. It is also notable that the EIC is retroactive, albeit only with the Minister’s discretion. But if Bermuda is moving towards policies that encourage people to invest in Bermuda and to generate more jobs and more economic activity for all, then this should be welcomed.
The EIC may not be perfect, and most likely will need to be be adjusted after seeing how it works in practice.
But if it is successful and expands the economy while not resulting in Bermudians being displaced and disadvantaged, then that in turn will encourage more openness to further change. And that would be welcome news indeed.