Home Affairs Minister Senator Michael Fahy *File photo
Home Affairs Minister Senator Michael Fahy *File photo

Firms that try to cheat on work permit rules face a major crackdown, including heavier fines and work permits put on hold for offending employers.

Home Affairs Minister Senator Michael Fahy predicts that legislation will be brought to the House of Assembly in the next session to tighten up the law.

Mr Fahy said: “Around ten to 15 per cent of employers abuse the policy — they tailor job adverts for specific individuals and some will hire a guest worker in a category of employment and they end up doing something else.

“For example, someone hired as a mason and ending up a general labourer.”

He added: “As often as not, it’s the employee who ends up in trouble, but in fact, they were working under the direction of their employer.

We have got to be looking at the employer.

And Sen. Fahy said: “I’m of the view if we have one or two prosecutions of employers who abuse policies, we will see other employers fall into line very quickly.”

The move has been backed by employers’ organization the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Fahy added, however, that the new get-tough policy on offenders would be balanced by a streamlined work permit process designed to help businesses start up or hire with the minimum of red tape.

He said: “We’ve been listening to international business and local companies and we want to make Bermuda business-friendly.”

He said examples already in force included a new global work permit to allow workers in overseas branches of the same business to move to Bermuda more easily, new business permits and the ten-year work permit for key staff.

And Sen Fahy added: “The work permit policy as it currently stands is overall quite a cumbersome policy document. We need to slim that down a bit and make the policies and procedure easier to follow. We can streamline policies once we have this penalty system in place.”

Sen. Fahy said that another important element of phase two of reform of work permits was ensuring training opportunities were available for Bermudians.

He added: “That’s definitely something we will be looking for – I don’t have much meat on the bone on that at the moment, but it may be, if you have a certain number of employees, you must have a training programme in place.”

Sen. Fahy said that new graduates had difficulties finding jobs after the return home because there were few entry level jobs available and many businesses needed experienced staff.

He added: “I can’t restrict completely work permits because businesses need guest workers to survive, but at the same time, we need to train Bermudians to be able to move into these positions and that trickles through all Ministries. Young people graduating from college need these entry level jobs to get experience and become part of the future of that company. It’s the same in the hotel industry and the same across the board. It’s not just Government’s responsibility. We see graduate training programmes all over the world and we want to work towards that.”

But he said: “What I’m not going to do is stifle Bermudian business – these businesses are owned by Bermudians and they need qualified people.” 

Bermuda Chamber of Commerce president Ronnie Viera said: “Having previously sat on the Immigration Board several years ago, I am aware that there are instances where an employer has clearly tailored the ad to suit an overseas candidate for whatever reason.

“Certainly where a company has a very specific job function using unique technology, it is understandable but clearly, in the current situation where many qualified Bermudians are seeking employment, such a practice is not acceptable. The challenge is for the Immigration Board to scrutinize applications and ask questions of the employer if it is not clear.”

 Mr Viera added “With regard to employers who are violating the immigration law by asking permit holders to do work outside of their permitted functions, the Chamber is already on record as supporting harsher penalties for employers in these instances. Working collectively the broader stakeholder group, including the Chamber, has provided the Minister with their recommendations for more stringent penalties across the board.”

• Also read: Chamber of Commerce and government working closer together