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Fast-track work permit pilot project planned

Key performance matrices: Wayne Caines, Minister of National Security

Work permits could be fast-tracked for two companies in a pilot programme designed to tackle delays in application turnaround times, MPs heard yesterday.

Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said that some steps may be dropped from the vetting process, which would be carried out electronically rather than the present paper system, which was cumbersome and more prone to human error.

He revealed that Liberty Mutual and Sompo International, both insurance companies, were selected for the trial thanks to their “corporate citizenship” credentials.

Mr Caines told the House of Assembly that discussions between the immigration department and business bodies including the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Bermuda International Companies and the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers had taken place.

He said: “They have shared with the ministry staff that there is a significant waiting period that is causing deep concern with reference to processing work permit applications.

“We are looking at a pilot programme with two companies — Sompo International and Liberty Mutual.”

The minister explained that “key performance matrices” in each company would be considered to decide if they were suitable for the accelerated permit programme.

He said factors such as training and development for Bermudians and how much annual revenue the firms brought to the island would be taken into account.

Mr Caines added: “We believe that this is an excellent opportunity for us to fast track a number of the applications, but when we say fast track it should not be misconstrued for not going through the necessary rigour of the process.”

He told MPs during a debate on the Budget: “The ultimate aim for the Department of Immigration is to make sure that Bermudians are being given opportunity, that the processes are fair, that there are no road blocks and that there is a level of accountability.”

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, asked how the two companies were chosen.

Mr Caines said Liberty Mutual had a “firm and deep commitment to Bermuda” with a track record of progressing Bermudians through the company and a leadership team that understood the “tapestry” of the island.

He added that similar principles were found at Sompo.

Mr Caines said: “If we are indeed going to balance what this new process looks like, we have to be brave.

“We have to balance what is best for making sure that Bermudians get opportunities but look at two companies that we believe are leading luminaries in this particular avenue and work through a pilot programme.”

He added: “We’re not going to be getting rid of the checks, the balances, the abilities for them to be held accountable for everyone that is within their organisation.

“It’s simply a pilot programme looking at how do we make the programme less cumbersome and if a person is a good corporate citizen, if they do have training and development for Bermudians, if they do have a number of internship programmes both locally and abroad that give Bermudians the opportunity to train and develop in Bermuda ... we have two lines.”

Mr Caines said one avenue included steps like newspaper adverts and on the Government’s job board as well as the production of solid evidence for every application.

He said, in the alternative route, a meeting would have taken place with the applicant company’s human resources director in advance and its commitment to Bermuda would be verified.

This could result in the firm skipping some of the “overt vetting procedures”.

Mr Caines said the programme was “not etched in stone” but that if the pilot was successful the department would then look at how to extend it.

He added that the work permit process had to move towards a more “risk-based approach”.

But he added: “It cannot be that we are opening up the floodgate to allow companies to just do whatever they please in Bermuda.”

Mr Caines said that a public consultation was expected to be launched soon to canvass opinion on open, closed and restricted work categories.

He added information would be provided about which jobs were in which brackets and there would be opportunities for people to suggest what roles should be moved.