British Virgin Islands: Offshore Legal and Tax Regimes
Employment and Residence
In order to work in the BVI, a work permit is needed, except for 'Belongers', naturalised citizens and holders of a certificate of residency. Work permits are issued only when there is no suitable local applicant for the job.
Under a new labour code introduced in 2002, it was proposed that 'non-belonger' workers in the Islands would no longer be granted an initial work permit of more than five years. Permits would be issued for up to one year at a time and then be considered for a renewal or an extension. A new five-year limit was introduced under which workers who have held work permits for five years must leave the BVI with their dependents and remain outside the territory until they can be considered for either re-employment or new employment. The proposals were resisted by business interests.
The Labour Code 2010, gazetted in May 2010, came into force on 4 October 2010. The Code revises the rules for work permits. Under the Code, work permits are valid for a maximum of three years and may be renewed upon application. Applicants who do not receive a renewal may be entitled to severance pay from the employer.
In order to lease or purchase land, non-Belongers must obtain an Alien Landholding Licence. Applications for a Licence must be accompanied by two personal financial references, one bank reference, two character references, police record, application fee of US$200 (per individual) or US$300 (per company). Once the licence has been granted applicants pay an acceptance fee of US$600 per person and US$1000 per company. Licences carry a 2 or 3 year commitment to develop unimproved land.
In December, 2004, the government outlined the details of a new immigration policy framework in a bid to clarify the rules surrounding applications for residence and 'belonger' status. Then Chief Minister Orlando Smith explained that the Board of Immigration would make recommendations in 2005 concerning those who applied for residence status before January 1, 2003 and had lived in the territory continuously for the last twenty years. In June, 2005, 92 of these individuals received residence and belonger certificates.
Approvals for those applying for residency status after January 1, 2003 are limited to no more than 25 persons per year. The government also stressed that in all cases, individuals cannot be away from the BVI for more than 90 days in any calendar year if they want to qualify for residency status.
Smith acknowledged that controlling immigration in the territory represented a 'very serious challenge' for the government, and explained that a balance must be struck between welcoming outsiders and protecting the privileges afforded to BVI citizens.
However, the issue of immigration reform has not yet been settled conclusively, and in March 2008 Premier and Minister of Finance Ralph O’Neal announced in his budget speech that comprehensive immigration reform would be a priority that year.
"We will amend existing legislation to implement additional control measures. Current legislation will be reviewed to ensure compliance with international laws, human rights and other conventions. As we embark on the reform process, we will ensure citizen participation by conducting regular consultations with representatives of the community, advocacy groups and other private sector organisations," he revealed.
Further details of the BVI's immigration and work permit rules can be obtained from the Immigration Department at:
341 Waterfront Drive,
Ashley Ritter Building,