Immigration Bill timing defended

The Government explained several of the reasons it believes the Immigration Amendment Bill must become law before the end of 2006.

Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing Friday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts told how the new law will benefit employees in certain situation.

‘A number of the important amendments that will benefit employers and employees are closely linked to Fixed Term Work Permit provisions,’ he said.

Fixed Term Work Permits are a legal provision the Government enacted earlier this year to help primarily alleviate an anomaly in the law with regard to applying for exempted employee status.

An exempted employee can get up to nine work permits instead of the usual seven, and thus remain on the island long enough to apply for permanent residence after eight years.

Under the current law, an employer can only apply for an employee to be exempted from the seven year term limit at the time of an application for the grant or renewal of a work permit. As a result, many employers had employees on their final one year or multi-year permit who they wished to have as exempted employees but could not.

The Fixed Term Work Permit allowed employers to retain those employees for one final period of nine months. This added time allowed the immigration review to be completed and the Immigration Amendment Bill to be passed. New provisions in the law will allow employers an opportunity to have those employees designated key employees – a term that will replace exempted employees under the amended law.

The government needs the law enacted before the end of the year, however.

‘Employers are to be provided with the benefit of applying for key employee status for their employees at any time prior to the expiration of the worker’s final work permit or Fixed Term Work Permit,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘Under the Immigration Law… the Chief Immigration Officer may not grant a Fixed Term Work Permit after 31 December 2006.

‘Thus, a person whose final work permit has expired and who does not have a Fixed Term Work Permit will not be able to benefit from this amendment.’

Mr. Tibbetts also explained that under the new amendments, people on Fixed Term Work Permits will be able to continue working by operation of law if they have applied for Permanent Residence before that permit expired.

‘Again, it can be seen that the Fixed Term Work Permit is the key issue,’ he said.

Beyond the Fixed Term Work Permit issue, Mr. Tibbetts spoke of some other reasons why the new legislation had to become law before the end of the year.

‘More generally, there are large numbers of persons who are rapidly reaching the end of their term limit and they and their employers need to know where they stand,’ he said. ‘For example, unless the revised law takes effect quickly, [employers] will miss the opportunity of applying for key employee status.’

Mr. Tibbetts said that one of the fundamental intentions of the Immigration Amendment Bill was to provide certainty for employers and employees.

‘Delayed implementation of the revised law would clearly run contrary to this intention.

‘To not disenfranchise both employers and employees and to be fair to the intent of the legislation, it becomes almost mandatory for [the Bill] to be approved by 31 December.’

Because Legislative Assembly Standing Orders mandate that a Bill cannot appear on an Order Paper for at least 21 days after it is first circulated to Members, the Immigration Bill will not be laid on the table of the House until 28 December, allowing only two days to debate and enact it.

Mr. Tibbetts has warned members to be prepared to work late on those nights.

The Government could have suspended standing orders and dealt with the matter earlier, but would not do so without the consent of the Opposition.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush has refused to give that consent.

‘It’s not for us to consent to anything. They’re the government,’ he said, calling Mr. Tibbetts ‘gutless’ for not simply suspending standing orders.

Mr. Bush has criticised the Government for rushing to enact legislation as important as the Immigration Amendment Bill in just two days.

He questioned why the Government did not extend the Fixed Term Work Permits another month or two to protect the people who would be adversely affected if the law is not changed before the end of the year, and also give more time to enact the amended law.

Last week Mr. Tibbetts explained that any Legislation to extend the Fixed Term Work Permit would also require at least 21 days before it could appear on an Order Paper, which would not help at this point.

But Mr. Bush said the Government could easily suspend standing orders on a Bill to extend an already existing provision of the Law and thus allow additional time on the more substantial Immigration Amendment Bill.

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