A three-member subcommittee of the Work Permit Board has been named to fast-track some 5,000 applications for renewal of annual permits.
‘This will enable the full committee to concentrate on the processing of the anticipated large number of first-time applications for one-year permits from those persons whose temporary work permits have expired or will expire within the next two months. Departmental estimates indicated that this could rise to nearly 4,000 applications,’ according to a Government Information Service press release.
‘In conjunction with this, interim arrangements are also being put in place to enable, where justifiable, persons in this group to continue to work while they await the outcome of their applications. Pending amendment to the Immigration Law to be brought to this month’s meeting of the Legislature to regularise this approach, the Chief Immigration Officer has agreed, as an interim measure, to issue temporary work permits (for some two to three months) to bonafide employers to enable their workers whose six-month temporary work permits have expired to continue to work in genuine cases of need.’
Work permit figures released from the Immigration Department show that there were 8,925 temporary work permits in effect on 31 May compared to some 3,000 last year. Annual work permits at the end of May totalled 10,784, bringing the total workers on permits to 18,583.
Another measure designed to relieve pressure is proposed legislation to prohibit visitors from changing their immigration status without the express permission of the Chief Immigration Officer.
These new measures will enable the department to respond in a timely way, appropriately meeting the needs of employers engaged in the reconstruction processes. At the same time, they will also strengthen the department’s capacity to respond sensitively to the need to safeguard overarching community interests, said Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson.
‘An underlying issue being addressed in the new measures is that the Immigration Law prohibits the employment of workers between the expiry of a temporary work permit and the grant of an annual work permit – even if the same employer is involved in both applications. If this were not addressed expeditiously, many employers would be faced with the daunting prospect of shutting down their business at a critical time in the Islands’ reconstruction,’ Mr. Manderson said.
‘Given this, the Cabinet has acted swiftly and has agreed to amend the Immigration Law to give employees the right to continue to work for the same employer. That is, provided that the employer has submitted the one-year work-permit application within the appropriate timeframe and on the same terms and conditions as the temporary work permit.
‘But this legislative change cannot be enacted until the end of June, given government’s pledge to ensure the timely publication of bills, providing the required public notice,’ said the release.
Commenting on the role of the new three-person subcommittee of the Work Permit Board, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said that this new strategy would obviously enable quick dispatch of renewal applications, while allowing the full board to focus its attention on the applications for new work permits.
‘I assure everyone that the Cabinet and the Immigration Department are sensitive to the enormous challenges that the public is facing and that we are committed to implementing measures that will give every support to this phase of the restoration programme.’ he said.
‘Notwithstanding measures to facilitate the fast-tracking of work-permit grants and renewals, we must also remain vigilant to ensure that we are accommodating genuine needs of employers as opposed to workers’ aims and objectives,’ he said.
Cabinet has also agreed to address the complaints about the many persons hanging around the island with nothing to do and to ease the burden of the hard-pressed Immigration Department.
‘Figures are such that currently there are 1,600 extensions granted to visitors awaiting outcomes of applications, compared to some 1,000 visitors genuinely extending their holiday,’ the release said.
The effect of this legislation will be to require all persons, except in certain prescribed cases, to remain off the island at the time new work-permit applications are submitted. Immigration officers will (as in most other modern jurisdictions) be allowed to refuse entry to persons coming to the Islands strictly to seek employment.
Mr. Manderson said the department would in the near future be issuing guidelines for cases – such as in the event of sickness or where companies may otherwise face extreme hardships – that may qualify for exemptions.