Fahy: Jobs and work permit plans will bring about change
Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy admits Bermuda's work permit regime is not perfect. But it's far improved from where it was.
New penalties contained in the first phase of the revised work permit policy come into force on April 1, 2014.
The new regime authorises the Chief Immigration Officer to fine employers up to $10,000 for violations.
The main objective, said Sen Fahy, is to let employers know work permit violations will not be tolerated in today's economic climate.
Staff training to bring officers up to a certain standard is about to get underway.
Prior to the new regime, once a work permit violation case goes to court he said: “It's out of the Ministry's hands.
“We can't catch everything, we're not going to catch everything, but when we can catch people they will be penalised.
“I don't want to use the word and say people have to be patient — we have to set the stage.
“There's still a lot of red tape in place in terms of work permits. What we'd like to do is streamline that policy,” said Sen Fahy.
Currently it takes about four weeks to process work permit applications.
“It's too long and I believe the new procedure will shave at least a week off.”
The work permit stakeholders group charged to examine every aspect of the existing policy will also scrutinise restricted categories.
That examination has unveiled requirements deemed “irrelevant and cumbersome” in today's world.
The Minister cited legal requirements to set up a dental practice as an example.
“You're legislated to consult with a number of different boards. But it's also a competition stifling issue. Essentially they're road blocks.
“The stakeholder group is looking to see what's stifling business — what's slowing it down?
“One of the priorities we said we would do to stimulate the economy is reduce red tape. One of the things that seems to be a blockage to new business and job creation is the work permit and immigration regime.”
“It's probably the first time, in a very long time, that you will see such a comprehensive review being done.”
The new National Training Plan will also be rolled out next month to define Bermuda's employment needs over the next decade.
The official opening of the new Department of Workforce Development in the old Magistrates' Court building takes place on October 28.
Historically, he said the Department of Labour and Training “didn't have to be overly concerned about training” due to “full employment”.
Under the new regime employers will be required to check the department's register of unemployed Bermudians.
“The plan will also help us align training programmes across the board in terms of where we spend money and scholarship opportunities.
“That will help both the public and private sectors assist our Bermudian workforce get up to a certain standard.
“There's no point us saying we need 25 forensic psychologists when you don't. It will say how many lawyers do you think we're going to need over the next ten years. It's a problem,” Sen Fahy said.
“Even the legal force in Bermuda has shrunk because business has declined. For the first time ever law firms were actually decreasing their corporate secretarial and corporation departments. Now those numbers are bumping back up.”
Looking back over the first ten months in office Sen Fahy said: “We've got a lot to be proud of in this Ministry.
“The team has worked incredibly hard, we've done some things that some have seen to be controversial. There's a lot of people who have very high expectations of the Government.”
On the promise of 2,000 over five years he said: “We can't create 2,000 jobs in ten months. I wish I could snap my fingers and there would be 2,000 jobs; but we have to create the stage for those jobs first.
“That includes things like ending term limits and a streamlined work permit policy. All of these things stimulate and encourage business in hiring Bermudians.
He scoffed at criticism that the new administration is more concerned with big business than the needs of Bermudians.
“You say ‘all you're doing is making it easier for a CEO and his family to stay here.
“It's important because if that person stays that business stays. If the business stays, it's employing Bermudians.”
Asked for his biggest disappointment and highlights as Minister, he pointed “the noise about term limits”.
“The biggest disappointment is how a number of people have not understood what we're trying to do.
“Term limits was a barrier to job creation of Bermuda jobs. The noise around that makes it sound like all we're doing is protesting guest workers.
“It's simply not true! We're protecting the job that has good effects for businesses that hire Bermudians.
“Trying to get that across has not been as successful as I would have liked. But the things that we've done as a legislative agenda as a whole is the highlight. The next highlight is the next legislative session to do more.”
Ultimately he said: “I think these initiatives will bite, I think they'll take effect and I think we will see a change.”