Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown put local employers who thrive on cheap labour, as opposed to hiring Bermudians on notice, that “the next wave of changes to Immigration” is coming.
In an extensive Ministerial Statement on the proposed new policies and procedures on Friday, Mr Brown said, in no uncertain terms, that as the new Minister: “It is my view that certain Immigration policies and procedures must be immediately addressed.”
Only then, will the Department of Immigration will be able to continue “to be effective and efficient” in achieving the Ministry’s mandate, “to improve the economy by addressing the needs of the local and international business community and the career aspirations of Bermudians”, he said.
The four-point list of changes includes enhancements to the current policy for entertainers, careful assessments of Statements of Employment; closer monitoring of the recruitment processes by employers; and effecting a plan to return the full processing of British Overseas Territories Citizen (BOTC) (Bermuda) passports to Bermuda.
In a time when “many Bermudians are either unemployed or underemployed”, he said: “As such, the second new process change relates to statements of employment which complement all work permit applications.”
After meeting with the Immigration Board just over two weeks ago, members have been instructed to assess statements of employment carefully, “to determine whether employers are proposing to pay non-Bermudian workers less than the market rate,” said the Minister.
“If this is the case, it means that employers are engaging in cheap labour practices and that Bermudians are unlikely to be offered employment and/or to accept employment, even if offered.
“Where there is evidence of the market rate for job categories; eg with the Bermuda Industrial Union for certain blue collar jobs, the Board of Immigration will benchmark the statements of employment against this, or with the breadth of expertise amongst the members, they will give input in the absence of evidence, and will determine whether, by way of the statements of employment, Bermudians are being disadvantaged.
“The third change specifically emcompasses the recruitment process. In the first instance, the technical officers will be required to highlight Bermudian applicants for posts.”
As a “carry-on from the actions by the technical officers”, he said “the Board of Immigration, will, in the second instance, be required to carefully vet the qualifications of all Bermudian applicants against information provided” in the recruitment disclosure section of the application form, the job advertisement, and the job background of each of the applicants.
This he said, will help “determine whether the Bermudian applicants are suitably qualified”. And in the case of Bermudian applicants “deemed to be suitably qualified and where they have not been interviewed, work permit applications will be refused”.
“Where it is uncovered that employers have failed to disclose Bermudian applicants, the work permit will be refused and where the work permit has already been approved and issued, consideration will be given to revoking it,” the Minister said.
“Employers must do right by Bermudians by giving Bermudians a fair chance at employment opportunities. It is not acceptable that Bermudians who meet all or most of the key requirements for jobs are dismissed without the courtesy of an interview. It is not acceptable that some employers will hide or fudge information just to hire a non-Bermudian.”
While noting that “the Department relies on complaints from the general public”, he said: “The internal review of the recruitment process is not the only means of uncovering whether employers have fairly considered Bermudians for jobs.
“Detailed complaints from the general public have never been frowned upon by the Department; this information gives weight to the internal process. I am therefore encouraging the general public to work with the Department to stamp out unfair recruitment practices by employers,” Mr Brown said.
On the recent “change relating to procedures for the processing of BOTC (Bermuda) passports”, he said the new design introduced last year has resulted in Bermuda passports not being “as easy to identify as they were prior to the change”. “They are being confused with other BOTC passports which do require a visa”.
“Bermudians who hold BOTC (Bermuda) passports are being told by authorities of various countries that they need a US visa to enter the US – this applies to travel by air and sea. This issue, which came to the Ministry’s attention in January 2017, is a result of the code ‘GBR’ (BMU is no longer included on the passport data page).
“With the new passport book design, passport books are held at HMPO because printing has also been centralized at HMPO. This has taken complete control of the process out of the hands of Bermuda (and the other British Overseas Territories).”
While discussions “have not yet resulted in a resolution to address the issue with the code”, Mr Brown said: “The Ministry is working to return the full processing of BOTC (Bermuda) passports to Bermuda.
“Currently, the Departmet of Information and Digital Technology is preparing a request for information to ascertain costs,” said the Minister.
Overall, he said the new wave of changes “are for the betterment of the economy, businesses, and Bermudians”.
“I am hopeful that the results with their intended aims, will be positive,” he said. The Minister also urged MPs and the general public at large to “expect further changes in Immigration policies and procedures”, in the months ahead.