Govt eases requirements for work permit exemptions
Government has tabled legislation which would make it easier for non-Bermudian senior executives to be exempt from work permit requirements and to be granted permanent residency.
But Government is also introducing legislation which would impose harsher penalties for work permit violations.
The developments were yesterday welcomed by the Bermuda Employers Council.
Amendments to the Incentives for Job Makers Act, tabled in Parliament, would reduce from 25 to 10 the number of Bermudian employees required in order for companies to qualify for the programme.
And the fee for Permanent Residence Certificate applications will be drastically reduced — from $120,000 to $25,000.
Government is proposing the changes as a result of feedback from the business community.
An initiative of the former Progressive Labour Party Government, the Incentives for Job Makers Act 2011 waives work permit requirements for senior executives in exchange for a demonstrated commitment to employ and promote Bermudians.
A maximum of five exemptions were allowed for any one company.
But at a press conference yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said the programme had not been as successful as hoped.
Besides reducing by more than half the number of Bermudian employees required for eligibility into the programme, the Minister is seeking parliamentary approval to remove a blanket maximum of five work permit exemptions for any one company.
Guidelines will be revised to reflect a different formula.
And the eligibility date of January 1, 2005 for PRC applicants would be changed to the “earliest date when the employer, responsible for their exemption, would have first met the conditions of the Economic Development Act”, Minister Fahy said.
“And finally, we are seeking to amend the Act to reduce the application fee for the PRC from $120,000 to $25,000, a fee deemed to be more palatable to the business community.”
The Minister said the measures will enhance efforts to stimulate the economy.
“It is firmly believed that these amendments will help to further renew and revitalise our economy.
“This Government represents change and as we move to rejuvenate the business sector with a view to stimulate economic growth and to secure jobs for Bermudians we are mindful of our regulatory responsibilities.”
The changes are being proposed in tandem with other legislative changes which would stiffen penalties for work permit violations.
Under proposed amendments to Immigration law the Chief Immigration Officer will have the ability to impose a civil penalty of $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
“Criminal penalties for offences under the Act are also set to increase from $5,000 to $10,000 for a first offence and from $10,000 to $25,000 for a second or subsequent offence,” the Minister said.
“A Civil Penalties regime incorporated into Immigration legislation is not uncommon and already practised in competitive jurisdictions.
“In the Cayman Islands' immigration law any immigration officer at or above the rank of Deputy Chief Immigration Officer may impose a fine; and in the UK, the UKBA introduced a civil penalty system for employers in February 2008 — a requirement to pay money for an offence without the need of court conviction.
“The public will recall that when the Government made a decision to eliminate term limits, we also made a commitment to strengthen our compliance regime and today we are taking the necessary steps to bring Bermuda's Immigration legislation in line with competitive jurisdictions.”
BEC president Keith Jensen said his organisation supported the bill.
“The Bermuda Employers' Council welcomes some of the real incentives for the new job creators in Bermuda,” he said.
“The legislation in the past had set high barriers to provide sufficient interest. We hope that the amendments will generate interest and confidence in the future of the Island and encourage investors to have a second look at Bermuda.
“Renewed interest and confidence in Bermuda will then generate investment leading to jobs, but it will take time.”
He added that the economic downturn had many businesses on the thin edge of the wedge.
“A positive result from the incentives cannot come soon enough.”
On the increased work permits penalties, Mr Jensen said: “Work permit penalties has been an issue because employers want to have ‘a level playing field' when it comes to staff.
“Reports of non-Bermudians being hired under the table often without medical insurance and paying taxes, working well outside the scope of their permits and businesses submitting false information are detrimental to Bermudians and to employers who play by the rules.
“The BEC supports the increased penalties and we have presented our views on the new powers of the Chief Immigration Officer. We look forward to working with the Stakeholders Group on the details of how the work permit violation processes will take place in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Non-Bermudian employees too will be impacted by the new penalties as will employers.”