With many essential services in the British Virgin Islands still out of commission in the wake of Hurricane Irma, numerous corporate services providers are pulling their employees out of the territory.
Many of those people could be coming to the Cayman Islands.
Richard Reading, a partner at Baker Tilly’s Cayman office, said about 15 to 20 financial services firms booked a jet to have some 250 employees evacuate the BVI on Wednesday. Other firms are working separately to help their workers leave.
The employees were scheduled to fly on the chartered flight to Puerto Rico and stay there for a night or two, and then decide whether to go home or come here, said Mr. Reading. He said that people who can easily fly home may choose to do so, while staff from more distant places, like the Philippines, will likely come to Cayman.
Mr. Reading said he expects between 10 and 15 BVI employees to come here on a 60-day work permit exemption that allows them to continue carrying out BVI-related business.
Nick Bullmore, a partner with Carey Olsen’s branch in Cayman, said government has been very helpful in facilitating the relocation. He said his firm is moving between five and 10 of its employees and their families here.
“For what it’s worth, our government has done a fantastic job of facilitating these moves,” he said. “It is wonderful to be able to help our sister islands in their time of need. Even though it has now been 13 years since Ivan, we all still remember the generosity shown by others at that time.”
It’s not clear how long it may be before the displaced workers can return to the BVI.
“It could take one month, six months, or a year,” said Mr. Reading. “It’s going to be a challenge to rebuild. It’s a hard place to build in.”
When Hurricane Ivan hit Cayman in 2004, BDO Managing Partner Glen Trenouth spent about three weeks in the BVI before returning to Cayman. His employees soon followed him, he said.
However, Mr. Trenouth said, he was able to find accommodations for himself and his employees. If the BVI cannot rebuild its infrastructure and housing, it would be pointless to send workers back, he said.
“They’d just be a burden on the territory,” he said, adding that eight BDO workers are expected to come to Cayman.
The BVI government, for its part, is scrambling to get public utilities back online.
The territory’s financial regulator, the Financial Services Commission, announced that its office would be “temporarily closed” on Sept. 5, and that there could be technical difficulties with its online portal that processes filings for the hundreds of thousands of companies registered there.
On Saturday, the Financial Services Commission announced that its Hong Kong-based BVI House Asia would be the point of contact for regulatory-related matters, and a day later House Asia officials announced that the online portal was back up and running.
On Monday, BVI House Asia’s Elise Donovan insisted that the territory is open for business.
“Our financial services business was built to allow people to do BVI business from anywhere in the world, and to continue business regardless of the physical conditions in this jurisdiction,” Ms. Donovan said in a press release, adding, “BVI has proven success with, and continues to be the go-to jurisdiction for, Asian and Chinese foreign direct investment. More than 40 percent of BVI corporate vehicles are owned and used successfully by Asian business leaders and high net worth individuals.”