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Cutting through the ‛anti’ noise around work permits

Dear Sir,

Consider this scenario: a Bermuda restaurant employer waits 3½ months for approval of a work-permit application for a new management position. When the employer finally meets with the Department of Immigration, asking why the lengthy delay, immigration responds: "We were waiting for Bermudians to apply." Did any Bermudians apply? Immigration: “No”. The employer then receives the work permit, which actually has an approval date of one month earlier.

Did this happen? I have been told that it did.

Regardless of whether the above scenario is true, it is widely known that the work-permit/expatriate community has borne the brunt of an “anti-foreigner” sentiment here in Bermuda for many years.

There has been a distinct feeling that job descriptions are often crafted to exclude Bermudians, the assumption being that “it’s a done deal, so why bother to apply” and also the sense that qualified Bermudians are overlooked when they do apply.

These reasons are often cited as to why our work-permit numbers stay constant or increase, particularly in the hospitality industry. Is it true? Historically, how many Bermudians actually submit applications for these jobs? How many were qualified? How many were hired/denied? Immigration should certainly have that information. Is it relevant to the Government’s “Bermudians First” platform promise? It most certainly is.

The work-permit scenario I describe here was a recent topic for discussion on our political social-media channel and there was very little “constructive” dialogue worth repeating, until Shawn Brown made this comment:

“I sat on the Immigration Board years ago and I would notice that for some positions Bermudians didn’t apply or very few did. Nothing new. Why not start posting how many Bermudians are applying for posts to end the narrative that some companies refuse to hire Bermudians?”

Further he said:

“It would end speculation that feeds into the anti-foreigner sentiment and help [Bermudians] see for themselves which skill sets are in demand and the little competition that exists for specific jobs. On the flip side, if several Bermudians are applying for a specific post and none get hired, it raises red flags and can expose companies as well. It’s a win-win in my view.”

The Bermuda Jobs Board (Department of Workforce Development) is an online resource for matching employers for suitable Bermudian candidates, and I note that it separately lists expiring work-permit positions. What if we also had a public register of all these active approved permits, attaching an application “history” of sorts — per Mr Brown’s recommendation above — which would then give real context to every work permit issued by Immigration and reveal the interest, or lack thereof, by Bermudians?

While this administration has a worthy goal to put Bermudians first, I see no effort from anyone with the political power to shed a bright light on an immigration issue that has been allowed to fester for years without quantifiable data. Now why is that? Because it won't fit the narrative? Show the stats and let's see the good, the bad and the ugly. Any progress we make to reduce the existing toxicity regarding the “anti-foreigner” — and, yes, the “anti-Bermudian” — sentiment can be only a good thing.

Mr Brown was correct when he said: “When people give you facts, it’s harder to manipulate them or push false narratives.”

BEVERLEY CONNELL

Pembroke

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Published March 20, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated March 19, 2021 at 1:37 pm)

Cutting through the ‛anti’ noise around work permits

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