STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR & IMMIGRATION
REPATRIATION OF UNEMPLOYED NON-NATIONALS
FRIDAY, 10TH JULY, 2020
The Virgin Islands is known to be a melting pot of various nationalities, which makes our Territory a truly diverse one. A large percentage of persons residing in the BVI are natives of other counties, and many have resided in our beautiful islands for several years and made it their home. The BVI economy has benefited greatly from expatriate workers who have come to build the workforce of this Territory, and for this we are truly grateful. As Minister responsible for both Labour and Immigration I have been faced with the heavy task of addressing workforce issues and the movement of persons in and out of the Territory, all with the help of my very abled staff in the Immigration Department and the Department of Labour & Workforce Development.
Mr. Speaker, over the past three months both departments have been faced with an escalation in the number of persons who have been laid off or released because of COVID-19. Though expected, the harsh reality of persons being unable to sustain their lives has been brought to the forefront. It is not easy for us as a Government to see our brothers and sisters become unable to take care of themselves, as, unlike BVIslanders and Belongers who may be able to depend on a nearby family member, they may not have that luxury. As a Government, we have fought to bridge the gap between being a longtime resident and becoming a Belonger, by successfully developing and executing the Immigration Regularization Initiative. This is a testament of our commitment to non-nationals making the BVI their home, where so desired. Further to this, with the help of the Economic and Fiscal Taskforce, Premier Fahie has been able to present to you, the public, a stimulus plan that reflects several initiatives geared towards helping not only BVIslanders and Belongers, but all persons who legally work in our Territory. But, Mr. Speaker, stimulus initiatives cannot last forever.
The Plan – If Terminated
Mr. Speaker, I have stated in a previous statement that persons residing in the BVI who have been terminated and would like to seek alternative employment will have the option to apply to the Acting Chief Immigration Officer for the option to receive a Conditional Permit under Section 31(1)(c) and 31(1A) of the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) Act, 2016. This will allow a qualifying person residing for a period of five years or more, and not having a previous Conditional Permit within the last three (3) years, to remain in the BVI while seeking employment for a period of three (3) months.
We are mindful that not all employees who have been terminated will qualify for a Conditional Permit but would still recommend that an application be made for the review of the Chief Immigration Officer, if a viable alternative job is available, for his review and discretionary decision. However, Mr. Speaker, the reality is, some will not be able to find alternative jobs and without financial or family support will be required to leave the Territory. With a reducing job market and the Government’s commitment under the Labour Code 2010 Section 2(b) which states “the legitimate employment interest of Virgin Islanders and Belongers shall be paramount ….”, we therefore ask that persons falling within this category of being released from permanent employment, being unable to find alternative work and unable to obtain a Conditional Permit begin to make the necessary arrangements to return to their homeland or an approved receiving jurisdiction of their choosing. These persons should also register with the Immigration Department by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org giving the particulars of their departure to allow for their exit to be properly recorded, thus assisting in a smooth re-entry when opportunity presents itself.
Mr. Speaker we recognize that many already wish to leave and we will do all that we can to assist those persons in whatever way we can.
Further, Mr. Speaker I would like to remind work permit and work permit exemption holders that illegal employment must not continue. If you are bonded by and hold a work permit with one employer you should not partake in employment with another entity, operate as self-employed or partake in any part time or temporary employment without the approvals of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and the Immigration Department. Mr. Speaker, this is illegal! Part X (ten) of the Labour Code speaks to work permits and the conditions and proper way in which to obtain various types of work permits. This Part of the Labour Code and Part VI (six) of the Immigration and Passport Act also give information on penalties for breaching those conditions. A stop must be put to this. Effective immediately, Mr. Speaker, efforts will be increased to enforce the powers of both Acts to stop illegal work in this Territory.
The Plan – If Laid Off
Mr. Speaker I would once again like to remind employers of the importance of submitting the necessary Business Assessment information to the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and the Immigration Department. This information will allow Government to continue to accurately assess the workforce conditions and aid in the direction of any further stimulus or assistance for the people of this Territory. A template of the needed information can be located at the government’s website (www.gov.vg). Also, be reminded that it is illegal to seek alternative or temporary employment when laid off without the proper approvals from the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and the Immigration Department. If you are a work permit holder and have found temporary work, please visit the Department of Labour and Workforce Development for information on the legal way to engage in these types of work.
Work Permit Renewals – New Requirements
Mr. Speaker, as we enter another phase in this “New Normal”, where work and the workforce is extremely fickle, it is our mission to ensure that all agencies involved in a person’s ability to work and an employer’s ability to hire, maintain the common goal of remaining compliant with Government’s requirements. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, effective immediately, all work permit renewals being submitted to the Department of Labour and Workforce Development are to be accompanied by the company’s good standings from the Social Security Board, Inland Revenue Department and National Health Insurance, as well as the certificates of earnings from the Social Security Board and Inland Revenue Department for the applicable employee seeking a renewal of his or her work permit. Without the mentioned documentation work permits will not be accepted by the Department of Labour and Workforce Development.
Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 has changed the entire world and the way in which we live, work and do business. We must now face the realities of the “New Normal” head on, with realistic eyes, an understanding heart, but also with a practical mind. A Territory such as ours has continuously opened our arms to receive anyone wanting to experience Natures Little Secrets, but the COVID-19 Pandemic has changed our ability to do so at this time, we therefore must do what we must, Mr. Speaker to save our Territory from financial instability. Mr. Speaker, I am aware that in a time like this many persons may be disheartened and frustrated by the decision to have them return to their home country, and though we are walking by faith and not by sight, the reality shows a future filled with bleak times for the world. Our Territory is no exception to that reality. We must ask ourselves how long can we carry on, and we must make decisions that are sustainable for the foreseeable future.
Be that as it may, as Minister for Labour I intend to work diligently in keeping this Government’s commitment to our brothers and sisters of the wider Caribbean, mainland US, Europe, and other parts of the world. After this time of transition and change has subsided, and we move into our transformation, we will give the necessary assistance to employers wishing to re-hire their loyal employees. We intend to do so by giving preference in the work permit process for these employees so that they may return to these beautiful Virgin Islands to re-establish their legitimate employment that was affected by the Pandemic, as smoothly as possible.
As Minister for Labour and Immigration I pledge to continue working in favor of all the people of this Territory.
I would like to remind the public to continue to wear your masks and continue adhering to the guidelines as set by the Government.
We will get through this TOGETHER! May God continue to bless you all and may God continue to bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.