Business community applauds scrapping of term limits
The business community has applauded the announcement that the new Government has eliminated Bermuda’s controversial term limit policy.
At a press conference yesterday, Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy announced the decision, which is effective immediately, after consulting various stakeholder groups and reviewing its potential impact.
The Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR), the Bermuda Employers Council and the Island’s largest management consulting and outsourcing company all hailed the decision.
The 2001 Progressive Labour Party policy imposed a six-year limit on most permits as a means of curbing long-term residency and received a largely unfavourable reception from the local business community.
“We didn’t agree with it when it was first announced and that was over ten years ago now,” said Chamber president Ronnie Viera. “Unfortunately, when it actually kicked in and became effective, it was just prior to the effect of the recession hitting us so it really had a double impact.”
He added that from the Chamber perspective, they were always seeking term limits to be abolished because of the negative impact it has had on business and the economy in general.
“We’re glad that the new minister has decided to do this,” he said. “It sends a positive message to the business community particularly the international business community and those that may consider coming here.”
ABIR, which represents 22 insurance groups which have principal underwriting operations here, was one of the trade groups Government consulted regarding the impact of scrapping term limits, including the proposal of a two-year suspension.
“We supported the proposal to eliminate term limits entirely as the alternative proposal being suspension did not, in our opinion, achieve a clear message to both existing companies located here already and those looking to make long-term investments into the Bermuda market,” said Leila Madeiros, senior vice-president, deputy director and corporate secretary of ABIR.
“Removing the term limit restrictions policy altogether will now allow businesses to operate through a work permit system without also weighing in on the issues pertaining to term limits.”
In his announcement Minister Fahy stated that the elimination of the policy will help spark economic growth and create employment opportunities for Bermudians.
“To be clear, our guest workers are vitally important to our economy,” he said. “The data shows that there are more jobs in the economy than there are qualified Bermudians to fill some of the jobs.
“Not only do guest workers bring skills and expertise but remember — they rent our homes and apartments, dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores, buy motor bikes and cars, consume energy and generally help to support our economy at many levels. Their mere presence helps to create and sustain jobs.”
Doug Soares, partner of Expertise, Bermuda’s largest management consulting firm who works on the front line of hiring for international companies, agreed and argued that eliminating term limits will actually create jobs for locals.
“This is a very positive development for Bermuda and Bermudians,” he said. “Not only did the term limits policy prove to be very ineffective at inhibiting long-term residency, but it actually cost Bermuda jobs and made Bermuda a less attractive domicile than other jurisdictions from a human capital perspective. That job exports due to this policy will cease is a very good thing”.
Bermuda Employers Council president Keith Jensen said the change in policy removes a stumbling block for international business to stay and to choose Bermuda for its operations.
“This decision with our sophisticated business support infrastructure will make the Island significantly more competitive in the international arena,” Mr Jensen said yesterday.
“The Island earns an estimated 80 percent of its income from international business and the more we can do to keep it here and to improve upon it the better.
“We recognise the term limit policy was introduced to inhibit long-term residents; work permits were considered separately. However, the consequences of the policy in our view compounded the impact of the recession.
“Changing the policy on its own will not solve our economic problems. It is a meaningful message to the world we are seriously open for business. It provides confidence in Bermuda.”
Business groups we spoke with all stated that their aim was never to eliminate job opportunities for Bermudians but to create a thriving business environment.
“The (term limit) policy drove capital away and made business think twice about coming here,” said Chamber boss Mr Viera. “It’s important to note and has been noted many times that the Chamber supports work permits and the need for work permits and the protection of jobs for qualified Bermudians.
“That’s not the issue and never was the issue. The issue purely was the term limit policy that put businesses in a very awkward position and added an unnecessary expense.”