British Virgin Islands: Labour Regulation
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.
In October, 2001, the British Virgin Islands government released details of a new Labour Code Law, an amended main feature of which states that 'non-belonger' workers in the Islands will no longer be granted an initial work permit of more than five years.
The existing rules governing labour in the Islands had stood for at least 20 years and Labour Commissioner Wendell Potter confirmed that the goal behind the legislation was to bring it into line with current modern-day standards and reflected the Labour Department's aim to strengthen the Department's operations and to be seen to be more involved in the labour industry and related issues.
Mr Potter said: "A work permit may be issued for a period up to one year at a time and be renewed or extended, but a new 5-year limit on work permits will come into effect. A 5-year limit means that an employee who has held work permits for a period of five years must leave the British Virgin Islands with his or her dependents and remain outside the territory for a period to be determined by the Governor-in-Council before that person can be considered for re-employment or new employment."
Mr Potter also confirmed that counting towards the 5-year limit on work permits could date back one or two years or alternatively it could commence at once if the amendments are approved. He claimed: "We believe that the time has come for us to put procedures in place that we are certain that the citizens of the country do not feel left out…that every effort is being made by employers to attract and seek out belongers and train them."
However not all have shared Mr Potter's views which have come up against some serious opposition from the business community in particular. After the draft Bill was released for public consultation, many businesses raised concerns that they may be made to employ workers simply because they are BV Islanders and are not sufficiently qualified.
They also asked who would be held accountable for severance pay if the 5-year restriction is imposed since around 80% of permits are classed as renewals.
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 1st January, 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 1st January, 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.
Under the Labour Code 2010, 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.