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Expanding the economy and protecting Bermudians

With sub-tropical temperatures, beautiful pink beaches and one of the highest standards of living in the world, all squeezed into just 22 square miles, it is no surprise that Bermuda needs immigration rules to ensure that it is not overrun by people looking for the good life.

Still, Immigration tends to be one of the least understood areas of moving to Bermuda – and the one most likely to lead to frustration.

The basic means of controlling immigration is a work permit. If you come to Bermuda with the intention of working and you are neither a Bermudian nor a spouse of a Bermudian, you must have a work permit.

To qualify for a work permit, you must have an employer who has carried out the necessary due diligence and advertising to satisfy the Department of Immigration that there is no Bermudian available to do your job. And you must fill out a number of forms and get the necessary documentation to show you are a healthy and upstanding citizen.

Certain other restrictions can also apply. Depending on your income, there are limits on the number of children you can bring to the Island due to concerns about overburdening local schools and your ability to support them.

No more term limits

Until early 2013, you may also have been subject to term limits, which would have prevented you from remaining on the Island for more than six years unless your employer was able to get a waiver or an exemption. That policy, which was aimed at preventing the growth of large numbers of long term non-Bermudian residents, was dropped by the new One Bermuda Alliance Government because it was seen as economically damaging.

Now all work permit holders must sign a declaration stating they understand that they have no right to remain in Bermuda, or to gain residency rights, once their work permit has expired, regardless of how long they have been on the island. Only marrying a Bermudian, qualifying for rights under other legislation such as the “Job Makers Act” and certain other processes will override that declaration.

The current policy

With term limits gone, what remain in force are the basic work permit rules and the tenures of different work permits. The standard work permit is for one year, but there are also two-, three-, five- and ten-year work permits.

The work permit is not held by you, but by your employer, and there are restrictions on what you can do under the work permit. For example, you generally will not be able to work in a second job and you will not be able to change jobs until you have been in Bermuda for two years.

Many people who are intending to work in Bermuda have a spouse or long term partner. This can be complicated. You might be an insurance executive or actuary but if your spouse is a retail store manager or a nuclear physicist, finding a job in Bermuda may be more difficult. As a rule of thumb, the spouse would be wise to seek employment before coming to Bermuda. Once here, the spouse must get a letter from Immigration giving permission to seek employment before looking for work. In any event, if the spouse wishes to come to work in Bermuda, this must be stated in the work permit application. Individual permits are also required for children.

Anyone coming to Bermuda also needs to be aware that certain jobs are “closed” or “restricted”.  Closed categories, which include jobs like general labourer, office receptionist and taxi drivers, cannot be held by non-Bermudians unless they have a Bermudian spouse.  Work permits for jobs in the restricted category can only be granted by the Minister responsible for Immigration if certain conditions have been filled.

Some other jobs, where there is a lack of qualified Bermudians, are easier to get with a principle application. These run the gamut from actuaries to nurses to butchers.

Encouraging businesses to come and to grow

Since the 2012 change of government, a number of policy changes have been introduced, primarily to encourage businesses to come to Bermuda or to stay in Bermuda. For example, a new business coming to Bermuda does not need to advertise the jobs of five senior staff members before getting work permits for them, and these jobs would not have to be advertised for two years.

A second policy enables a company to be granted a global work permit, by which a senior employee of a global company can come to Bermuda without the need to advertise the work permit. The only condition is that the employee should not be filling an existing position in the Bermuda office.

“Job Makers” legislation has also been amended to enable executives who are responsible for at least ten jobs held by Bermudians to be eligible for permanent residence. This legislation predates the current government, but the requirements seen as being both too costly and too onerous have now been eased. The result? A number of applications are now working their way through the process.

Also looming are additional changes to the work permit policy and more debate on the idea of commercial immigration, which would essentially give overseas investors the right to reside in Bermuda.

All of these measures are aimed at making Bermuda more welcoming to business because if the new businesses are successful, they will lead to Bermudians being employed as well and to general economic growth which benefits everyone.

In that sense, immigration policy is becoming a tool for encouraging economic growth and creating jobs for Bermudians – not a deterrent, as has sometimes been the case.

The quid pro quo

However, there is always a quid pro quo. The fees for work permits are sizeable, ranging from $800 for a one-year work permit to $15,000 for a ten-year permit. Employers must also disclose all Bermudian applicants for a job for which they are seeking a work permit, thus ensuring that Bermudians have been given a fair chance. Parliament has also passed new legislation increasing the penalties for employers who breach the rules.

In other words, Immigration restrictions may have been eased, and many people now say the process is now more user friendly than it used to be, but if you cheat or break the rules, don’t expect much sympathy – and do expect to pay a fine which could be as high as $25,000 (for a second offence).

In general, these changes have been welcomed because they are aimed at creating jobs – for Bermudians and non-Bermudians – on the Island, and thus expanding the economy, now slowly emerging from a recession which saw some 5,000 jobs lost.

To learn more about Immigration, contact Bermuda Executive Services at 296-5627, or email us at info@bes.bm

A version of this article by Bermuda Executive Services Ltd was published in the Bermuda New Residents Guide

Useful resource: Department of Immigration website