BVI governor calls for return of Irma evacuees

This Sept. 8 picture shows some of the devastation Hurricane Irma caused in the British Virgin Islands. At least 170 people came to Cayman after the hurricane, and the BVI's governor is calling for them to return by the end of March. - Photo: AP

Financial services workers who were evacuated from the British Virgin Islands after last September’s hurricanes should return there by the end of March, BVI Governor Gus Jaspert said last week during his Speech from the Throne.

With many law firms and other financial services companies in the BVI also having offices here, at least 170 evacuees came to the Cayman Islands after Hurricane Irma devastated the BVI on Sept. 6, destroying an estimated 80 percent of the homes there.

Government was not able to provide numbers on how many evacuees are still here before this issue’s press deadline, but several were at a financial services conference at The Ritz-Carlton on Friday. One displaced worker said he was unaware of Mr. Jaspert’s statements, but that he already plans to return to the BVI on March 23.

The displaced workers were granted temporary work permits to continue carrying out BVI-related business while living here, and the BVI government passed the Financial Services (Continuity of Business) Act, 2017, which allowed BVI businesses to temporarily relocate outside of the territory.

The Financial Services (Continuity of Business) Act, 2017 expires on March 31 unless the BVI government makes an order to extend it. If businesses stay outside the BVI after the expiration date, they will be deemed to have left the territory permanently, the legislation states.

Mr. Jaspert said he believes that conditions in the BVI are such that all evacuees can return.

“Our government believes that it has provided reasonable accommodation to the territory’s financial services players to transition out of and back into the territory as we continue to recover from the effects of the two hurricanes we experienced in September 2017,” he said. “It is our government’s hope, therefore, that the financial services businesses that had taken advantage of and benefitted from the sunshine period will now be making preparations to return to the territory no later than March 31 to continue their business operations as required by the various financial services legislation.”

According to BVI Premier Orlando Smith, essential services in the territory have largely been restored.

Power has been restored to about 90 percent of the islands, schools are back in session, healthcare services remain fully operational, 70 percent of the public spaces have been cleared of debris, and 75 percent of the telecommunications infrastructure has been restored, Mr. Smith said on Feb. 22.

“While there are many persons still to receive some essential services, it is safe to say that the general quality of our lives has remarkably improved over the past six months,” he said.

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