Work permit fees will rise for Bermuda reinsurers

A new graded fee structure for work permits in Bermuda has been announced that will see the cost of importing management for re/insurance companies rise by an undisclosed amount.

Bermuda’s minister of immigration also told business leaders that the much-hated six year limits for non-key employees are not going to be withdrawn – despite behind-closed door assurances that the scheme would be reconsidered after this year’s elections.

The thorny issue of the time it takes to process applications and the term limits for the majority of workers has led to ongoing tension between business and the Bermuda government over the past few years – and this week it heated up again.

The minister of immigration, David Burch, has been trying to clear the backlog of applications for exemptions to the term limits and normal work permit applications, but said the extra cost of improving the system and hiring more staff should be borne by those applying for work permits.

“You will be aware that many of the changes implemented above come with a cost,” he told the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.

“I give early notice that the age-old practice of a CEO work permit costing the same as a gardener's is likely to end and graduated fees introduced

Minister of immigration David Burch

“Costs that, in my view, should be borne by those utilising the service. As such, I give early notice that the age-old practice of a CEO work permit costing the same as a gardener’s is likely to end and graduated fees introduced.”

Burch also addressed concerns that work permit limits, which came into effect in 2007, were not in the best interests of Bermuda and admonished companies for sending in unnecessary applications.

In the past, business leaders from all sectors have publicly criticised the term limits and said they will damage Bermuda’s economy as well as making recruiting more difficult.

Of a workforce of about 34,000, Burch revealed that in 2007, there were 9,599 work permits processed – with foreigners in one in three jobs.

“Term limits are here to stay but their application will be fair and in accordance with that policy,” he said. “It is right that I share with you, however, those applications for the pot washer or the kitchen porter to be exempt from term limits as a ‘key employee’ hardly assist in your cause that the arguments against term limits be seriously considered. It is precisely that kind of abuse that aided in creating the mess we have today.”

“Cliches such as 'killing the golden goose' come to mind

David Ezekiel

The Bermuda Chamber of Commerce president Phil Barnett then accused the government of sending mixed messages on work permit term limits, which contradicts assurances given by the previous Immigration minister and other government advisors that there could be exemptions for employees at all levels of a business.

He also revealed that many key employee applications were being turned down, including chefs, general managers, lawyers, accountants as well as people in international business (which is mainly re/insurance) and in construction.

But Burch has hit back and said in a press conference that Barnett has seriously damaged a “good working relationship” by publicly claiming the government had sent mixed messages on work permit term limits.

David Ezekiel, president of the chairman of the Association of Bermuda International Companies, said government had to walk a very fine line when it came to the fee structure. “Clichés such as ‘killing the golden goose’ come to mind,” he said.

Ezekiel, who also runs IAS, a captive management company, said: “International business will accept a sensible realignment of the fee structure, but anything more than that will have a severe impact on the businesses currently in Bermuda and, more worryingly, a much greater impact on those making the decision whether to locate here or in a competing domicile, and this will reduce job opportunities and revenue opportunities for Bermuda and Bermudians for many years to come.”