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Gov’T Unveils ‘Fast Track’ Work Permits

IMMIGRATION Minister Brent Symonette.

IMMIGRATION Minister Brent Symonette.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

THE Government yesterday unveiled a ‘fast track’ process, targeted at specific industries, that will allow top foreign executives to enter the Bahamas without possessing work permits.

Legislation tabled in the House of Assembly reveals how Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and immigration, is moving swiftly to deliver on his pledge to “liberalise” the Bahamian economy.

The Commercial Enterprises Bill is touted as “seeking to liberalise the granting of work permits to an enterprise that wishes to establish itself in the Bahamas”, and requires such approvals for its top executives and senior personnel.

The Bill, if passed into law as is, would enable a ‘specified commercial enterprise’ to obtain an Investments Board certificate granting it a specific number of work permits for certain positions.

The ‘certificate’, which will initially be issued for one year and can be renewed, would allow key personnel to set up the company’s physical operations in the Bahamas before they obtained a work permit.

Such a permit must be applied for within 30 days of their entry, and the Bill mandates the Director of Immigration to make a decision on approval within 14 days of receiving the application. Should the Director not respond within that timeframe, the work permit is “automatically deemed to have been granted”.

Work permits issued under the Bill’s provisions will be for a three-year period, and are renewable for the same duration. They can only be revoked on grounds of “public safety, public morality or national security”.

The Minnis administration’s ‘fast track’ work permit approval process is likely to arouse political controversy, and opposition from certain segments of society, given how emotive Immigration is for many Bahamians. With the unemployment rate still stubbornly high at around 10 per cent, fears of ‘foreigners taking Bahamian jobs’ will undoubtedly be stoked.

However, the Commercial Enterprises Bill indicates that the Government is ‘thinking out of the box’ over ways to stimulate the Bahamian economy, and create jobs and economic growth, by attracting foreign-owned businesses to domicile in this nation.

These companies must meet a qualifying criteria to obtain a ‘specified commercial enterprise’ certificate, including a minimum $250,000 investment and Investments Board approval, and produce a business plan that details “training and capacity-building opportunities” for Bahamians involving jobs initially held by work permit holders.

The ‘specified commercial enterprise’ legislation is also targeted at specific industries - chiefly foreign exchange earners, and those which have been cited by the Minnis administration as part of its economic growth and diversification strategy.

Financial services leads the way with reinsurance; captive insurance; investment fund administration; arbitration; wealth management; international trade and international arbitrage included in the ‘fast track’ work permit sectors - just as Mr Symonette has indicated in recent presentations.

Also listed in the Bill are technology-related industries such as computer programming; software design and writing; bioninformatics and analytics; nano technology; and biomedical health facilities.

The Government has targeted Grand Bahama as a technology hub, and the inclusion of ‘boutique health facilities’ on the ‘fast track’ list adds to the focus on health. Data storage and warehousing are also present, as is aviation registration and ‘approved’ aviation maintenance operations - again sectors that have been identified by the Minnis administration as potential growth drivers.

The list is concluded by ‘call centres’ and manufacturing and assembly/logistics businesses.

Brian Moree QC, senior partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, told Tribune Business that the Bill represented an “innovative” effort by the Government to use Immigration policy as a national development tool - something many in the private sector have called for, but which previous administrations have shied away from.

The Bill also allows the minister for financial services, Mr Symonette, to develop regulations identifying any island “or any part of an island” as a ‘specified commercial enterprise zone’ - something Mr Moree said would allow it to direct specific investments and industries to islands badly needing an economic boost.

Emphasising that he had not personally seen the Bill, Mr Moree said it was attempting to bring certainty and predictability to work permit approvals and issuance timeframes.

This has long been sought by many Bahamian businesses, and the prominent QC said the Commercial Enterprises Bill could also help to boost the country’s economic competitiveness and ‘ease of doing business’.

“That sounds like a very innovative and interesting piece of legislation,” Mr Moree replied, after being informed of the Bill’s contents by Tribune Business. “I haven’t seen it, but that’s refreshing.

“I think that the industry will respond very favourably to the provisions of this Bill, and it is a tangible and substantial response to a long-standing issue relating to work permits in the financial services industry, which is principally a global industry involving multinational and overseas businesses and operations.

“I have to study the Bill more carefully, but at first glance it does seem to address a number of important issues,” he continued. “One, it introduces a level of certainty in the process relating to work permits for business enterprises.

“Second, it guarantees a very reasonable turnaround time for the applications to be processed and dealt with, and thirdly, it’s innovative and creative in using Immigration policy as a tool of national development.”

Mr Moree said the “structured” provisions for training Bahamians were “a laudable objective”, and an essential component in ensuring that the Government met the public’s career aspirations.”

He added that the Commercial Enterprises Bill also “indirectly addresses two other major priorities which are critical for our country.

“It does seem to enhance our competitiveness in specific areas,” the prominent QC told Tribune Business, “and at least indirectly would seem to contribute to the ease of doing business.

“The process is defined, the time periods are fixed. There is an element of predictability, which is important.”

The Bill also allows Mr Symonette to establish ‘specified commercial enterprise zones’ “for the purposes of rationalising infrastructure investment, efficient land use or the encouragement of clusters of commercial development”. He can also work with the Minister of Finance to develop investment incentives specific to each zone.

Mr Moree yesterday suggested this would enable the Government to direct certain industries and investments to specific parts of the Bahamas, aiding islands that were economically depressed.

“This provision would seem to be intended to enable the Government to surgically target economically depressed areas in the Bahamas, with a view to providing injections of FDI and development to help them,” he told Tribune Business.

“It would seem to be a very useful tool for policymakers to further development in depressed areas, and to direct these investments to areas outside New Providence, which I think would be very good for some of the locations experiencing economic and financial hardship.”

Mr Moree said the Bill also highlighted how the combination of financial services, Immigration and trade and industry into one Cabinet Minister’s portfolio was reaping rewards for the Bahamas.

Comments

TalRussell 1 month ago

Comrades! Voters on May 10, 2017 voted for a change but apparently they 'again' didn't exactly want that much of a change in the way their government operates? When are voters going learn that all they did was to change the colours of the t-shirts this new government does be wearing?
This new automatic work permit red shirts policy - coupled with his stated views on the granting work and residency permits and citizenship - even when there's a dark cloud hanging over the applicants suspiciously forged looking and sounding documents, should leave no doubt that it won't be immigration minister Brent, who will lead the charge for Bahamaization.

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banker 1 month ago

This is exactly what the country needs. Cayman Enterprise City figured this out years ago. Maybe this will help create a tech industry in The Bahamas.

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OldFort2012 1 month ago

If we can get to within 10% of Grand Cayman, it will be great. For we are at 0% now.

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evalynC 1 month ago

Rubbish! Cayman is not an independent country and have little say in what the masters in London do.

The natives are second class citizens despite the 2 dollars.

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banker 1 month ago

Not true. Independence was the beginning of the end for the Bahamas.

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evalynC 1 month ago

This sounds great as long as it also allows for LAWYERS to be brought in. Just hope the profession of most politicians won't remain protected while everyone else face competition in this country where there is already significant unemployment.

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birdiestrachan 1 month ago

Note the adoring looks coming from doc and the man next to him. Their Master is speaking it is the peoples time. What people?

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DDK 1 month ago

Poor you! Don't you have a flight to take?

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Alex_Charles 1 month ago

I understand the whole setup with permits but the problem is... how in the fuck can you fast track this nonsense when you have stated months ago that immigration has more than 10 years worth of citizenship applications spilled all over the floor and in several boxes in several rooms. You have a complete systems failure in your portfolio so I don't know how you can announce "fast-tracking" of anything.

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OldFort2012 1 month ago

Read the article. If they do not reply within 14 days, it is deemed to be granted. Simple.

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DDK 1 month ago

That part is foolishness. Simple.

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banker 1 month ago

Nope, that's the Cayman model -- 10 business days.

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observerinlondon 1 month ago

A 1 year work permit? Really? I don't know of any executive here in London who would move their family to any jurisdiction on the planet based on a 1 year permit. Make it a 5 year permit and you might have a chance. Again, consecutive Bahamian governments show how disconnected they are from the business world. That being said, with the crime levels, lack of local services, pitiful healthcare and zero opportunity for profits, who in their right mind would open a new venture in The Bahamas. Gentlemen, sun, sand and sea just don't cut it anymore.

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Hi_Ho_its_off_to_work_I_go 1 month ago

Couldn't agree more. In times gone by, the lure of environment was as much as that of the job. In this day and age, with many more countries and locations seeking to attract expertise (Dubai for example), how the local conditions stack up against the opposition is just as important. Sadly, Bahamas is way behind on this - I know - lived there for a couple of years.

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DDK 1 month ago

"These companies must meet a qualifying criteria to obtain a ‘specified commercial enterprise’ certificate, including a minimum $250,000 investment and Investments Board approval, and produce a business plan that details “training and capacity-building opportunities” for Bahamians involving jobs initially held by work permit holders."

  1. Is this investment to be in the form of the purchase of say, real-estate, or the form of a fee to the Immigration Department?
  2. WILL Bahamians actually be trained to take over jobs or will the jobs always require special skills not possessed by Bahamians as has always been the case, e.g. a janitor who must be fluent in Swahili and Mandarin?
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TalRussell 1 month ago

Comrade DDK, foreigners investment road to $250,000 investment. First, they apply to the PMO, for the grant some 'free crown lands' - then they sell it for $1 million, write a cheque to the ministry of finance for $250,000 - and then pocket the $750,000. Only in a red shirts Bahamaland, you say? { I didn't just make that up }.

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DDK 1 month ago

Oh that! Thank you Comrade! Seems to have nothing to do with setting up a financial service or tech-type business in our fair lands.

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TalRussell 1 month ago

Comrade DDK, you're much to intelligent to be so easily fooled by Brent. This is the same man's who was the substantive immigration minister before. In fact, he previously had Bran as his junior immigration minister...remember Bran?
You really need read what Brent said to Freeporter's, when he previously was the immigration minister - about how they needed stop complaining because there being NO shortage jobs in Grand Bahama - just that Grand Bahamalanders - were too proud to perform domestic and yards weeding chores for a boss man's or boss woman's paycheques? { Believe me, I didn't make this up }.

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DEDDIE 1 month ago

The idea is great. In the USA all one has to do is invest 500,000 and the immediate family gets a green cards.

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ashley14 1 month ago

not true. you don't have to invest money to get a green card. just apply, it's not hard.

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alfalfa 1 month ago

I would not categorize a person who invests 250,000, to be a major investor. This benchmark must be much higher. Seems to me that when one applies for investment approval, the work permit application should be part and parcel and all aspects of the investment project can be approved simultaneously. This appears to be another system of loopholes designed to let friends, and friends of friends into our country. If the investment can be in the form of a real estate purchase, one can only wonder as to who in the honourable house is in the real estate business. I trust they are speaking of investments that generate Bahamian employment, cash flow, NIB, Business license fees, and other related government revenue. If not, something foul is afoot.

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banker 1 month ago

A suitable person who rents a house and doesn't invest in property can create economic activities worth millions of dollars. These investment metrics show the true ignorance of the government.

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Economist 1 month ago

This is a positive step forward. When one looks at Cayman v The Bahamas, the size of our populations, and the Billions invested, it is clear to see that this might reverse the downward spiral of FDI leaving The Bahamas. Cayman is doing so much better than we are. They have had a similar type of immigration policy as the one tabled.

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banker 1 month ago

The Caymans have $6.5 TRILLION dollars invested in their wealth management industry. They have a population of 60,000. Do you know why they don't have a Haitian problem? Because Caymanis won't give them under the table jobs.

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evalynC 1 month ago

Rubish! Cayman is not an independent country. They don't have a say in who their British masters let in and out of the country.

And the NATIVES are SECOND class citizens in their OWN COUNTRY despite the couple of dollars

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banker 1 month ago

That is simply not true.

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bogart 1 month ago

Wasnt some politicians talking about giving the same exemption benefits to depressed areas of Nauuau or over the Hilldepressed areas just as Bay st areas was getting.? Only this time the word surgical is being used. As for fast rrack this is nothing new. Just need to have some connection to someone without integrity or ethical standards and its fast tracked. Tipping I believe means to insure prompt servive also. As for ease of doing business you still have to deal with the bank and lawyers who will actually tell you that iit is a conflict to go up against a bank.(they are on a bank approved list and cannot sue the bank )Try going to the Central Bank and they will tell you they cannot intervene. SAME Politicians usually appoint the Directors and Govenor.

As for training Bahamian employees well that too is not new and as and Bahamian banker will tell you it is the Bahamian banker who has to train foreign staff while getting a lower salary. Investments to islands are nothing new...and Bahamian birthright land is given to attract .....Bahamians get jobs go for a loan at the bank and profits are ratriated to Barbados or some country who control the local banking indistry and dictate the type of loans and volumes Bahamian loan officers must give to get a pay increase.?....give as much investments but what if the returns build up jobs in other Caribbean countries bad loans and all the are second hand japanese cars in return..walks like a duck...talks like a duck..... Suggestion ....to build start with a good foundation Go yhrough all depts, investigate, jail time for wrong doers....

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birdiestrachan 1 month ago

All of those Bahamians who vilified the Chinese. They can come now and they can come cheap. very cheap. But it is the peoples time. The hotel the government is trying to buy should be a good example for them. for what can and will go wrong. This visionless government.

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TalRussell 1 month ago

Comrades! Increasingly, countries are tightening their borders and paths to immigration.... but not the Bahamaland under the governing Minnis, Brent and KP, who are preparing for but a small insulting cash fee paid into the public treasury - to turn the pride of your prized citizenship into a commodity - priced at no more than the value of at a truckload of 150lb sacks OK Flour.

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banker 1 month ago

The programme is headed for failure. There is still too much red tape. Immigration approval, investment board approval and a training plan? Their heads are stuck in the past. You just don't take a school leaver and "train them up" for financial services and tech. Never mind programmers and engineers. Even people like accountants, risk managers, certified project managers and actuaries need specialised training that can't be found here, and even those fields are advancing rapidly. With some of the wealth managers now getting into such esoteric products as cryptofunds and ICO investing, one needs to know the mechanisms, laws, jurisdictional guidelines, accounting procedures, fund management mechanics and even the legal profession needs ramping up on these issues. You just don't train them up like you train up a doorman or a maid or a service worker. What the government doesn't realise, is that the practitioners of these advanced arts, may not have the skills to train people even though they work in them. Training itself is a scientific endeavour with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), Syllabus construction, testing and learning metrics. What these bozos in government do not realise, is that the whole world is now a knowledge industry with areas like big data, analytics and even hiring and human resources has gone on to a whole new technological level. The morons in government don't know how much they don't know. Train up Bahamians ha ! Do they look like a fooking university professor?

Where I work, the eastern Europeans are the service workers. They are hard workers and speak English with a thick accent. The guy who cleans the carpet is a man named Radek. He brings me some dough confections with powdered sugar that his wife makes, and I trade him for Belgian chocolates that I get on business trips. One day he said to me "I work hard. I would love your job -- sitting on chair all day pushing buttons". I could never train him up to be a derivatives trader.

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OldFort2012 1 month ago

You are right. And it is totally unnecessary. If I employ an expat, it costs me several times more than a Bahamian. I have to cover his rental costs, medical insurance, moving costs, club memberships, etc. All in all at least $250,000 per year. A Bahamian would be a lot cheaper, so naturally I would prefer to hire one. But, as you say, I do not have the time nor the skill to train someone. I need them today! It is not my job to educate. That is the Government's job. If only they had enough brains to let the market do its job. Let the expats in, grow the economy, collect taxes, right the ship of state and in 20-30-40-50 years time you will be able to properly fund the education system and produce candidates that are employable. There are no shortcuts.

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birdiestrachan 1 month ago

Well I do declare Banker is calling members of the FNM government. BOZOS. The Out spoken QC is calling them visionless. I always believed they were bozos and visionless

They have taken away the power of Immigration, If there is no reply to their application they are straight and they can take the matter into their own hands,

The peoples time indeed.

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banker 1 month ago

Their redeeming grace is that they are not sub-human PLP bottom feeder slimeball, traitorous criminals like the last government.

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Dawes 1 month ago

Why does no one point out that there are numerous Bahamians working in the financial sectors overseas, being the same foreigners that people here hate. Based on the number of Bahamians i know personally who work overseas i would say that there are more professional Bahamians living elsewhere then ex-pats living here. If every country did as some above wish happened here, these Bahamians would be out of a job and only adding to the unemployment line over here. If we want to be able to do business in a globalised world, which is what the financial sector is, then we have no choice but to allow those people here to do business . Otherwise lets close up shop and have the financial sector for us only, of course this would mean less Bahamians employed in this industry as most of these banks would just pack up and move. We have to have a sensible immigration policy, which benefits both the company coming here and this country. What we have now does neither and only contributes to our continued decline.

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evalynC 1 month ago

Agreed. However, the problem here is allowing a "provision" for just "special areas", opening opportunities for shortcuts and abuse.

Immigration laws need to amended to allow for a wider class of skilled workers in general. I'm in a situation where I need specialist legal advise on a complicated financial transaction but will still not be able to get it.

Why is the legal profession still being protected?

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banker 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Why does no one point out that there are numerous Bahamians working in the financial sectors overseas

I am one of those financial professionals working overseas. My salary has virtually doubled. I get a performance bonus depending on how profitable my trading group is. I pay income tax (largely deducted at the source except for bonus cheques) and I don't mind paying income tax.

After having tasted the forbidden fruit of working in a cosmopolitan, enlightened world, I do not think that anything can lure me back to work in the Bahamas. I now fully understand what my old client from PI told me about how life is really small in the Bahamas. And as Dawes pointed out, it is totally true. I went to a meeting in Lichtenstein and who should be in the boardroom when I entered? Another Bahamian woman in financial services. I asked her about going back, and said there was no way. Where she is at, she is in driveable distance to Milan Italy, Zurich Switzerland and Munich Germany. Much to see, much to do and much to experience.

All this to say, is that there are people who do want to live in sun, sand and sea away from winter, and we should let them in without friction and let them contribute.

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