TORTOLA — After public outcry, British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie’s government has increased the time expatriates must live in the territory to 20 years to be granted status and is calling for a cap on the number of expatriates allowed to work in the territory.
The move is part of about 800 people waiting to earn permanent residency or Belonger status.
The announcement came during a Saturday night radio program and was followed by a national address Sunday. And on Monday, with four of the five opposition members absent from the vote, the House of Assembly passed the initiative amending the Immigration and Passport Act.
“What we are seeking to address does not involve new people or recent residents,” Fahie said. “There will be no flooding of our territory with new entrants.”
The government’s initial plan had called for expanding permanent residency, and in some cases Belonger status, to expatriates who had been in the territory for 15 years.
Not every individual will be eligible for regularization of status, Fahie said.
“Only persons who meet the existing criteria, and who have been making a contribution back to our society would qualify for consideration,” Fahie said.
“This fast-tracking initiative is for one time only,” Fahie said. “The objective is to mainly address the backlog of applicants that have been pending and to sort through which applications have merit and which do not.”
According to Fahie, clearing the backlog is the first phase of the government’s strategy for comprehensive immigration and labor reform.
“Starting from next week, we will begin a series of more public discussions to shape the new immigration and labor policies, and to consider the substantial amendments to the Immigration and Passport Act, in the best interest if every Virgin Islander,” Fahie said.
In the last seven years under the previous administration, according to Fahie, 1,565 individuals were granted residency and 772 were granted Belonger status.
Fahie alleged political motivations for the moves and said his administration is being more transparent.
“Our borders have been left wide opened far too long, and now is the time to move with haste, to begin the process of protecting our borders and all Virgin Islanders,” Fahie said noting the government intends to cap the number of expatriates who are allowed into the territory for work.
People from approximately 115 different nations comprised BVI’s population of 32,800 at the end of 2017. At that time 20,654 people, or 62.97% of the population, were non-nationals. Statistics from 2015 showed that of a workforce of 19,691 persons, 14,199 were nonnationals.
“The immigration and labor reforms that the government is pursuing will ensure that persons who come to the Virgin Islands for employment do not develop unfounded expectations and that their presence in the territory does not remain unchecked. The labor reform policies will provide greater protection to BVIslanders and Belongers in the job market by closing the gaps that have made it possible for local persons to be locked out of certain jobs.”
Fahie says that his government has paused to listen to the people’s concerns and solutions, so that they can make sure there is a genuine place for BVIslanders in the BVI.
Fahie pointed out his Cabinet recently approved spending $6.4 million for the purchase of border monitoring software. This he said, will allow the Immigration Department to keep proper tabs on people entering the territory and also keep proper records that will be used in renewing work permits.
“We intend to make clear to people entering our borders what to expect from before they hit our shores.”
Fahie said his government is aware of instances of work permits being renewed but the individual’s Social Security, National Health Insurance and taxes have not been paid. He said the government is moving to ensure that violators will face heavy penalties.
“We are also are aware of potential employers who sponsor people to come here, but with no work to do, which allows them to freelance in our job market,” Fahie said.
“These people, sometimes end up with three or four jobs and also resulting in cheating the system further by not paying Social Security, or their due taxes, and even while at the same time benefitting from all the social services. These are being looked at — and the loopholes will be blocked. We have to be more accountable and secure our borders and bring law and order in this territory.”