Businessman critical of Premier’s work permit policy comments
Premier Paula Cox was “not telling the whole story” when she said Bermuda’s immigration policy is more flexible than the Cayman Islands’, according to a business executive..
Ms Cox made her comments after news on Wednesday that work permit term limits have been suspended in the Cayman Islands, which previously limited them to seven years.
United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan on Thursday said the move by a rival business jurisdiction would serve to make Bermuda less competitive.
Asked whether Bermuda would also suspend term limits which have proved unpopular with business owners Ms Cox said our immigration model is more flexible, and the Island is no less competitive than Cayman.
However, the senior executive who has offices in both jurisdictions, and did not want his name printed said Ms Cox was not giving an accurate picture of the controversial policy, which “should be done away with altogether”
He said there is “no process for retaining intellectual capital” in Bermuda, because there is currently no route to permanent residency or citizenship.
The Premier announced plans in July to make the Island more welcoming to international business by creating work permit exemptions for some senior non-Bermudian key workers, with permanent residency available for them and their families after ten years on the Island.
In response to the Cayman announcement, she told this newspaper on Thursday: “In our model the Minister responsible for Immigration can identify any additional carve outs the ten-year work permit and the incentives for job makers while continuing to keep the promise to Bermudians that we will not create additional long-term residents.”
She said it should be noted that key workers are granted waivers, and companies who cannot afford to recruit from overseas are granted extensions.
She concluded: “It should be noted that persons in key positions are granted waivers and we do facilitate those that cannot afford to recruit from overseas by granting extensions. I do not think that Cayman’s actions alone on this front would make us less competitive.
“The way they process work permits and the cost of work permits has always been a problem for them. For example, our charge of $20,000 for a ten-year work permit is less than what the fee is for an executive for one year only ($25,000).
“Their turnaround time for the processing of a work permit is far longer than our turnaround time. They have only started addressing the fast-tracking of work permits.
“Their fee structure is quite complicated. Businesses also have to pay annual fees. Our plans to provide ten-year permits and incentives are way ahead of them. Even the client base is different, with more hotel workers.
“As long as we continue to be sensitive to the needs of our clients and to practice the red carpet approach then we will continue to attract business. We continue as a Government to implement initiatives that are friendly to business. Bermuda is open to and open for business.”
However, the executive said this is not the “whole story” as, although work permit fees are higher in Cayman, they do not have payroll tax, which is set at 14 percent in Bermuda and was 16 percent until earlier this year.
He said from his experience, the annual payroll tax bill for some Bermuda executives is higher than the annual $25,000 work permit fee for an executive in Cayman.
“That’s not the only thing where she’s mislead the public,” he added. “The policy is less flexible in Cayman than in Bermuda, but the Cayman Islands have a process whereby after seven years you are able to apply for permanent residency and after a further five years or so you can apply for citizenship.
“Bermuda has no process for permanent residency, although they say that if someone is an executive they will consider it. And there’s no process for anyone creating intellectual capital, and therefore wealth to get citizenship. In the Cayman Islands there’s a progression of rights that are available.
“There’s no process for retaining intellectual capital in Bermuda. You can’t build wealth and have a healthy economy unless you retain intellectual capital. The term limit policy should be altogether done away with.”
The Association of Bermuda International Companies [ABIC] also repeated calls yesterday for the policy to be axed, although it commended Government on steps already taken to boost the economy by attracting and retaining international business.
Chairman George Hutchings said: “In ABIC surveys, our membership have identified the cost of doing business, immigration reform and a business friendly environment as critical to maintaining and growing the international business sector in Bermuda.
“Following the important step taken to reduce the payroll tax earlier in the year, the Government is supporting strategies to attract new business and expand the financial services sector.
“Recently, immigration reform has been addressed. More certainty has been created to job creators by way of the extension of work permits to ten years for certain categories of key jobs. This policy will make it somewhat easier to encourage talent to remain in Bermuda and attract and retain the expertise necessary to maintain and grow our sector.”
Mr Hutchings described these as “important and timely changes to maintain talent and intellectual capital here on the Island and to attract job producers from overseas. These policy changes send a clear and important message that Bermuda is open for business”.
However, he said ABIC has not changed its long term position on the term limit policy.
“The business environment in both Bermuda and the world has changed significantly in the decade since the term limit policy was first defined,” he said.
“Business faces much greater worldwide competition for its products and the staff to service them. IB in Bermuda is a dynamic sector undergoing change that has resulted in a less Bermuda-centric business model for many of our international employers. This factor as well as an increase in the cost of hosting those employees [Bermudians and non-Bermudians alike] has resulted in a net job loss from our sector.
“The term limit policy is regularly cited in exit interviews, by external recruiters and business leaders, as a policy that has an additional negative effect on how people view Bermuda as a place to do business and to work. Removing the term limit policy would counter this negativity without damaging the legitimate employment interests and aspirations of Bermudians.”