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Immigration policy is key to our prosperity

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The 2008 global recession. Who would have thought when it started that Bermuda in 2016 would still be feeling the economic effects of it? Why is this? And why did other countries such as the United States come out of recession so quickly by comparison?

The answer is that the recession for Bermuda meant losing 5,000 or more residents of Bermuda — some estimates are as high as 8,000. The US didn't have people leave during the recession, so their “fixes” were different, and, while painful to many, were not as long-lasting.

Five thousand residents leaving Bermuda; expatriates and Bermudians. No one saw this coming until it was too late. These were people who were largely aged 25 to 55. They were healthy and paid into the government tax system. They ate at Bermudian-owned restaurants and rented Bermudian-owned homes and apartments. They left and the consequences were and still are far-reaching.

Every Chamber of Commerce member organisation sells products and services to our residents. Their ability to generate more money to pay for food, clothing and shelter, etc, for themselves and their families is dependent upon more people living in Bermuda, plain and simple. Those 5,000 people who left Bermuda made a huge difference to the lives of the average Bermudian.

All other factors being equal, a shrinking or smaller workforce limits how much any given economy can produce. If Bermuda does not increase its workforce, the Government will be challenged to continue to pay its bills to our creditors. Increasing the workforce is not easy for an island our size. Immigration policy is the most effective method that we have to do this. A larger domestic population creates more aggregate demand and more potential customers for all businesses.

So what do we need to do? Employment data shows that as more expatriate workers are employed in Bermuda, so are more Bermudians employed, and as fewer expatriate workers are employed, fewer Bermudians are employed. This became very obvious after the exodus of so many expatriate workers in Bermuda since 2008, which coincided with many Bermudian jobs being lost.

Coincidentally, growing the population is not only important to Bermuda businesses; it is also important for public sector workers. More people living and working in Bermuda means more people taking the bus and having their garbage collected, etc. More jobs for Bermudians.

It is important to define what Bermuda's financial situation looks like. Bermuda's debt of $1.4 billion equates to roughly $44,000 per worker in Bermuda. How will Bermuda ever be able to pay this money back?

The answer is that Bermuda needs to replace many of the 5,000 residents that it lost. One way to accomplish this is through immigration policy, a highly sensitive and emotive issue, as we all know. While most Bermudians are supportive of more people living and working in Bermuda, the issue that concerns us most is how.

Immigration policy is the most effective method to accomplish this. Having said that, there is an important recognition that immigration policy failed many Bermudians in the past and future policies must be designed with broad collaboration and input from the community to ensure that policies support Bermudians and future generations of Bermudians.

A delicate balance it will be. However, if we fail to recognise immigration reform as a means to improve the economic fortunes of the private and public sectors in Bermuda, we will have missed the greatest opportunity we have to grow jobs for Bermudians.

One of the objectives of the Chamber of Commerce is to elevate the discussion on issues critical to our members and to the broader community. The chamber has organised an “Immigration Reform” breakfast panel discussion for June 16 from 8.30am to 10am at the Hamilton Princess. The panellists are Philip Butterfield, the former chief executive officer of HSBC Bermuda, economist Craig Simmons, and Lynne Winfield, president of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.

We urge all members and non-members to attend to listen and to participate on an issue that is critically important to all Bermudians. This is a call to action by the Chamber of Commerce to participate in the discussion. Bermuda's future prosperity depends on it.

John Wight, chief executive officer of BF&M Ltd, is the president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce

Sensitive subject: Bermudians are supportive of people living and working in Bermuda, our columnist says, but the issue that concerns people is how
Economic impact: John Wight is president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce

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Published June 02, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 02, 2016 at 8:49 am)

Immigration policy is key to our prosperity

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