WPB faces large backlogs

The day after the Work Permit Board had to cancel one of its meetings with 200 applications on the agenda because only two members could attend, Cabinet appointed four new members to the board.

Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin confirmed that Alice Mae Coe, Laverne Daykin, Ronald Parchment Sr. and Sheena Westerborg were all appointed to the Work Permit Board during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. Ms Westerborg will serve as deputy chair.

WPB Chair Sharon Roulstone said six board member positions had become vacant.

‘The reason we have lost board members is primarily due to the inordinate amount of time members must commit to these meetings each week,’ she said. ‘We spend at least eight hours in each meeting and meet twice a week.’

Board members are paid $100 per meeting, Ms Roulstone said.

‘Obviously, no one is doing this for the money, but there comes a time, too, when a member has to consider to whom they owe their loyalties: the board or to their employers, which hopefully are paying them more.’

Mr. McLaughlin said three members who had resigned in recent months – former deputy chairman Chris Hew, Dorothy Davis and Betty Ann Duty – all cited time demands as reasons for their resignations.

‘They said they couldn’t cope with the workload,’ he said. ‘A lot of people simply can’t do it once they figure out the time commitment involved.’

Because of the resignations, the WPB has been unable to convene a regular meeting – which require a quorum of five members – for ‘quite some time’, Ms Roulstone said.

‘The Immigration Law allows for sub-committees to be appointed, which only require a quorum of three members, one of which must be the chair or deputy chair,’ she noted. ‘Sub-committees, however, cannot deal with certain matters, including key employee status.’

The sub-committees were, however, able to deal with work permit grant and renewal applications. Back in February, Ms Roulstone believes there was a 16-week backlog on work permit grants and an eight-week backlog on work permit renewals.

‘In more recent months, we managed to reduce the work permit grant applications to around eight weeks processing time and renewals were down to four weeks, but the key employee applications have just continued to grow,’ she said.

Ms Roulstone said the WPB sub-committees were also helping the Business Staffing Plan Board deal with applications, even though that board has 11 members.

‘What is quite amazing to me is that we have been able to reduce the backlogs even with limited members and taking into account the fact that we also consider Business Staffing Plan Board applications to assist them with their backlog.’

With regard to the key employee status applications, Ms Roulstone said there had been a ‘huge backlog’ earlier this year.

‘But I decided to have a special meeting in January or February to deal with just those applications and we managed to bring them right up to date at the time.’

However, since the regular WPB has been unable to meet for several months, the key employee application backlog has grown.

Ms Roulstone said she understood there were about 100 backlogged key employee applications, something she called ‘a huge concern of mine’.

‘Many of them, I am quite sure, will have already exceeded their term limit, which means if we refuse the application, the worker has to stop working immediately and leave the island,’ she said. ‘There will be unnecessary pressure put on the Work Permit Board and potential hardship caused to the worker and employer.’

The situation at the Business Staffing Plan Board is much better.

BSPB Chairman Andrew Reid said his board added two meetings per month to deal with renewals.

‘The Board deals with grants and miscellaneous matters – such as key [employee] applications – at least four times a month and some applications are now getting to the board in as few as a couple of weeks.’

One thing that would help both the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board is the passage of proposed legislation that would enable the Immigration Department to rule on some non-controversial applications administratively, as it already does with temporary work permits. The government announced the proposed changes last November, but the necessary amendments to the Immigration Law have not yet been made.

Mr. McLaughlin said he was hopeful the amendment bill would be ready to be tabled in the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly.

‘The draft bill is supposed to come to Cabinet next Tuesday,’ he said, adding that Cabinet had already seen a rough draft of the bill.

‘This will be the third or fourth revision.’

Mr. McLaughlin was confident that having the Immigration Department deal with applications like work permit renewals administratively would help the backlog situation.

‘I think that will have some real positive impacts for the boards,’ he said.

Ms Roulstone agreed.

‘In my opinion, this will assist the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board in being able to concentrate on the more difficult applications… and thus reduce the time required in attendance at board meetings.

‘It will also reduce the backlog, but I am not optimistic this will be the short term result, as there will be a learning curve for all concerned. There will be new procedures for employers and you can therefore expect delays until everyone becomes familiar with the new requirements.’

Mr. Reid said the BSPB also welcomed the proposed administrative grant system.

‘This will serve to reduce the Board’s workload and enable the Board to devote more time to non-routine matters such as Business Staffing Plan and key employee applications,’ he said.