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Duperreault: Time has come for economic citizenship

Foreign entrepreneurs are needed to help boost the Island's economy because Bermudians “don't have all the answers”, according to an influential business leader.

Insurance boss Brian Duperreault said attracting foreign expertise through “commercial citizenship” was “the most effective way to inject an entrepreneurial spirit into the way we do business”, adding that immigration laws needed to be relaxed to “give others a chance to help us”.

The former ACE CEO also warned that, while the economy was showing signs of recovery, Bermuda was “the incredible shrinking country” that was “still in a state of crisis and decline”.

Speaking at a Bermuda Insurance Institute awards ceremony at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess hotel this evening, Mr Duperreault said immigration reform was “a unique opportunity to move Bermuda forward” that also had “the potential to be the type of game-changing move that we must make”.

“In the last five years, we've lost thousands of residents,” he said.

“We can't reproduce ourselves out of this problem, and we have an unsustainable debt that no amount of cost-cutting will resolve. We need a more open policy of inviting people with money, and ideas, to live in Bermuda.

“We've been a pretty exclusive club up until now. I think it's time to loosen the rules so others can join. Residence in Bermuda is still coveted. People who are discerning about where to live still put a value on living in Bermuda.

“Let's give others a chance to help us. We don't have all the answers. We can enact legislation that provides for what I'll call economic citizenship. It may not include voting rights, but it would represent a stability in employment and residence that would be very appealing to the type of people we want to attract.

“Who knows what businesses might result from creating an incubator of intellectual capital here in Bermuda?”

Mr Duperreault, who now heads up the Hamilton Insurance Group, acknowledged that the prospect of changing immigration laws “alarms people”.

“When you don't have a job, it's hard to support making it easier for non-Bermudians to come here and work,” he told attendees, included Premier Craig Cannonier.

But he added: “Done in consultation with the right stakeholders, modifying our immigration policies doesn't have to represent a threat to Bermudians' birthrights.

“We can make sure the quid pro quo protects Bermudians. We can make it clear that people can come, but they have to create a specified number of jobs in a specified period of time. If their company succeeds and thrives, they can stay. If not, they have to leave.”

Mr Duperreault praised the local insurance industry as a model the rest of the Island needed to follow.

But he warned that, with the second pillar of the economy — tourism — “still on life support”, it was dangerous to rely on the insurance sector to bring about an economic turnaround.

“Bermuda needs to figure out how to get that entrepreneurial model embedded in the DNA of the country. This is not the time to be tentative and lose our confidence,” he said.

“I know we can do this. If we get the right people around the table, talk honestly about the issues and listen to each other, we can do this.

“I'm not suggesting an endless loop of consultation. I'm saying that, as a community, let's define what needs to be done, discuss solutions and make decisions — in a time frame that respects the process but has the momentum that a crisis requires.

“Because we are still in a state of crisis. And we're still in decline. We're the incredible shrinking country.”

In February, 2013, Government scrapped term limit policies for work permit holders, claiming they were “a job killer” and “a real detriment to maintaining and protecting intellectual capital”on the Island.

And in last November's Throne Speech, it announced plans to examine commercial immigration as a means of stimulating investment and creating jobs. It has since hosted a number of town hall meetings to get public feedback.

But the Opposition Progressive Labour Party has described the controversial initiative as a “red line” which should not be crossed.

“The PLP is committed to defeating any effort to relegate Bermudians to second class citizenship status to anyone sneaked in under a cash-for-passports scheme,” then-Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban said in January.

Economic citizenship: Brian Duperreault believes the time has come to relax the Island's immigration rules

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Published May 15, 2014 at 10:07 pm (Updated May 15, 2014 at 10:10 pm)

Duperreault: Time has come for economic citizenship

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