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Extend Work Permit 'Fast Track' To Locals, Government Urged

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

THE Government has been urged by a governance reformer to extend its 'fast track' work permit process to all Bahamian-owned businesses and industries suffering from "a skills gap".

Robert Myers, a principal with the Organisation for Responsible Governance ORG), told Tribune Business that the provisions contained in the Commercial Enterprises Bill were "a good start" and "first step" towards liberalising the Bahamian economy.

The Bill, if passed into law as is, would enable expatriate management and specialist professionals belonging to firms in 'targeted industries' to enter the Bahamas without first obtaining a work permit.

However, Mr Myers, himself a businessman, urged that the Commercial Enterprises Bill be non-discriminatory, and that its 'fast track' work permit provisions be extended to Bahamian-owned and local businesses unable to find essential workers in this country.

Arguing that there was a dearth of "middle management" talent and upward mobility within the 200,000-plus Bahamian workforce, the ORG principal blamed this on an inadequate education system and wider society failings that had failed to properly prepare persons for the rigours of a 21st century workforce.

"I think that's a start," Mr Myers told Tribune Business of the Commercial Enterprises Bill. "They need to get some of the hurdles out of the way with foreign, local and domestic businesses.

"It's a good, strong step. But if they [the Government] wanted to be forward thinking and progressive in the way their doing things, include industries where there is a gap in skills.

"Liberalise the Immigration system more so that you don't make it do difficult and expensive for businesses to grow and want to come to the Bahamas. Find out where the skills gaps are and open it up, and you will get growth," he added.

"The way to improve the economy is not to tax it harder, but make it easier to grow. Increasing Immigration costs makes it harder to grow. Decreasing it, liberalising it, making it easier to grow; we've got to create pro-growth policies to get the economy going."

The Commercial Enterprises Bill is chiefly targeted at foreign exchange earners perceived as involving high levels of foreign direct investment (FDI), and 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.

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.

The Commercial Enterprises Bill, and its 'fast track' work permit process, have also likely been restricted to certain industries so that the Government can escape any political and electorate fall-out.

Immigration, and the granting of work permits, remains an emotive topic for many Bahamians, but Mr Myers said his call to expand the Bill's provisions did not mean he was advocating an 'Open Sesame' for all expatriate workers.

"I'm not saying we need to start bringing in people to work in the retail sector on the floor," he explained, "but if its expansion hands on finding a store manager and none suitably qualified are available locally, there is a skills deficiency and the store won't grow."

"In our opinion, there's a significant shortage [of labour] because of education," Mr Myers continued, "the problems the core education system has created over the decades.

"There's a significant problem in the middle management segment, and there just aren't enough people to gain upward mobility because there is such a deficiency in the education system. The deficiencies in productive and qualified labour stem from the education system.

"We applaud the Government's actions, but let's make it [the Bill] broader than the foreign-owned companies. Identify the skills gaps, and get started."

The process contained in the Commercial Enterprises Bill, which was this week tabled in the House of Assembly for its first reading, allows senior foreign management and key personnel to enter the Bahamas and establish physical businesses - in the targeted industries only - without possessing a work permit.

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. A special unit within the Investments Board, called the Commercial Enterprises Facilitation Unit, will be created to oversee this process.

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 legislation is thus designed to bring certainty and predictability to the work permit approval process, something often cited as a major impediment to the smooth conduct of commerce in the Bahamas.

Mr Myers emphasised that the Bahamas needed to improve both the cost and ease of doing business, expressing concerns about the Government's intention to review existing work permits with a view to possible increases.

He said the focus on financial services was commendable given that the industry is "already under stress", but argued that the Minnis administration actions needed to take reforms beyond the Commercial Enterprises Bill to achieve the 5.5 per cent GDP growth rate cited by the IMF as critical to absorbing all new workforce entrants and cutting the unemployment rate in half.

"It's tinkering at the edges. That's not going to get us where we need to be," Mr Myers said of the Bill, although he described the assertion by Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, that it was part of 'a wider plan' as "great news".

"If he said that, let's roll it out," Mr Myers said of Mr Symonette. "Let's hear it. Let's go. We'd be so, so happy to see it. Let's see it in action. Local and foreign, Bahamian and foreign, bring them in and pay less for permits."

He added that increased economic growth and employment would come from the private sector, not Moody's or the IMF, and improved consumer and business confidence that the Bahamas was "heading in the right direction".

"If the goal is to drive employment and growth, then we want to make it easier to do just that," Mr Myers said. "Liberalise the Immigration system, because it's going to allow for greater growth, and the more activity businesses can generate, the more unemployment will come down.

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The FNM Government will do as you tell them. This is what the Bahamian people who voted its the peoples time voted for.

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TalRussell 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Comrade Foreigners wanting relocate to the Bahamaland. At some early stage red shirts governing mandate, you will be able to buy a visa to startup and operate a fish fry shack, from a government kiosk at whatever point of entry for about $2,500. Or, select option 2 to just grab a taxi from Ping's airport to your job waiting and you won't even have to apply for no work permit. You got's no supporting documentations, no worry as is not going be required at all. You can then wait around for option 3, when once you're 36 months has passed, you will have automatically qualified to become a naturalized citizen of the Commonwealth The Bahamaland's. As for your new fish fry business. Can't cook, again no worry - just hire an illegal cleans and fry's your fish and boil ya grits. 'It's Really Better For Foreigners to succeed In The Bahamaland.'

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happyfly 1 month, 3 weeks ago

You two failed clowns.

There has never been so many unnecessary work permits and permanent residency (with the right to own your own business) get approved as when the PLP were just in. Nothing to do with protecting the fish fry and everything to do with people getting grease. Forget it if you a modern day Bahamian company that needs to bring in a special set of skills......for a couple dollars your PLP was letting people on permits set up business and bring in their own people on permits and the next set on permits bringing their buddies in on permits. And Permanent residency with the right to own your own fish fry was ON SALE !!!

Where is your boy Perry by the way ? I see you all waving his flag but cant see him for ghost !

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

" work permit provisions be extended to Bahamian-owned and local businesses unable to find essential workers in this country"

Nothing has ever been so clear, after hoping that this administration was different and ready to change things, at the end of the day, everyone looks after their own interests.

No one is interested in training the Bahamian populace. They simply continue the myth that we are untrainable, they can't find the skills they want etc etc when they know they put the ad in the back of whatever medium they used under a rock. If they do get an inquiry they invent a requirement that no one but the person they preselected can fulfill.

This is no different than the PLP's plan to keep the population uneducated so they could claim the spoils.

On the other end you have the car dealers complaining about Bahamians making economical car purchases asking the government to force them into buying their overpriced cars then you have the real estate people asking the government to open the door to allow more people to buy up the land and price it outside the reach of the avg .Bahamian. Then ?DR ?Minnis appoints a PR guy to run the ministry of finance.

All for me baby 2.0

"Arguing that there was a dearth of "middle management" talent and upward mobility within the 200,000-plus Bahamian workforce,"

Middle management....this man is saying open the doors to middle managers. He's claiming he can't find or train ten people to supervise a group of people.unbelievable.

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

No one is interested in training the Bahamian populace.

A very very large part of the Bahamian populace is untrainable. They are functionally illiterate in language, math and technology. It is a result of the D- education system. When I was employed in the Bahamas, we had to go through many receptionists before we found one that was capable, and knew how to treat clients. And that was just for a receptionist job. We gave the failed candidates more chances than they deserved, hired a local communications firm to train them just in the art of speaking to high net worth clients on the telephone, and we still had to terminate them because they just didn't get it. Some couldn't operate the scheduling/appointments system on the computer. One of them came in and said that she couldn't enter appointments on the computer because her acrylic nails were too long and she juss had dem done, and she could be ready in a month to type. One of them missed days of work without phoning in. Others were incredibly lazy. It was a nightmare. When we got a good employee, we paid them well because they were worth their weight in gold. But we had to go through a lot of chaff to find the wheat.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I rebuke that!!! These D average people aren't dumb and they're not untrainable, we just haven't found the way to train them or motivate. I can't think of a more boring job than reception, OMG. I'd be asleep by 10AM. Id walk in the first day with my resignation letter ready. I'd hand it to the manager on the way in. I'd have my pillow in my bag. I say that to say THAT job is not for everyone. People need to be stimulated and that's like a sedative. Acrylic nails though lol.

I believe we are throwing away mind power like crazy in this country. Some of them sitting right under the ju-ju tree believing what we tell them about themselves.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

This is why people are perpetuating the myth that there are no programmers in the country and Bahamians are too dumb to learn the skill, its so they can go outside and get cheap labour. Where is Renard Henfields voice in all of this?

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OldFort2012 1 month, 2 weeks ago

CHEAP? CHEAP? A foreigner costs me at least 5 (yes, FIVE) times as much as a Bahamian. I could not care less whether Bahamians are too dumb or not. All I know is there are none here NOW. I need a worker NOW. It is not my job to TRAIN anyone. It is my job to run a business and satisfy its demands. It is not my fault that the education system is sub par, nor is it my fault that further education is non-existent. And just to explain to you how real business works: since a foreigner is too expensive, we have put off indefinitely any expansion plans. Want to know why GDP growth has been ZERO forever? There, you have your answer.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

"*All I know is there are none here NOW."

Lies. I could give you the names of at least five and there are more. This article clearly tells me this myth has been perpetuated so business persons can make a case to those non the wiser that there are none. Where did you run this ad and fir how long? Was it on FB? Did you ask COB or Synergy or BTVI for leads? How many IT Managers did you ask if they knew someone?

Actually I came up with 7. If I jogged my memory I'd get more. And I'm sure each person in that network each has their own network and so on and so on. Next well be hearing there are no Bahamians in the Bahamas

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Emac 1 month, 2 weeks ago

ThisisOurs...you are right! There are many programmers out there-Some young and are very much versed in the latest programming language. When people tell you that the Bahamas does not have a certain skill set, they are just kidding themselves. These people never once advertise for these positions in the relevant media. We are too quick to label ALL Bahamians as inefficient and dumb. Get over yourself. There are Bahamians out there that are more than qualified for the job. I know, because this is a field that I am actively involved with!

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Interesting .. about the programmers argument .. you are making the same mistake that the government makes. They assume that just because you are a programmer, you can program anything. Not true. Tech is now one of the least stable environments for long term employment because the field changes so fast.

Years ago, any 9 year old could make a website. That still is true, but not very useful for modern reactive websites, especially ones that do client and customer service. One of the programmers in our office, paid money to learn Ruby-On-Rails - a web framework to connect to databases based on high software engineering principles. Our firm adopted it, and a few years later ditched it for programs known as Angular, NodeJS, and a bunch of other funny names like Coffee. This poor guy was made redundant because the firm needed experts immediately and didn't have the time to train up their staff.

I know a guy in Nassau with an IT degree from MIT -- the best software engineering school in the world. He decided to stay in Nassau -- family, like, patriotism, etc, and spent the last decade programming in mainframe languages for the financial services. He now has very few marketable skills in this day and age in the exciting tech scene.

Even skills in accounting, law, program management and financial services are changing rapidly, and we need experts to keep our sectors going.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Actually, you made the mistake in assuming that I'm assuming that:) I'm not.

I don't know about your IT guy, but I do know that if you have foundational skills you can learn anything. Telling me they don't know this language or that language is meaningless to me, because as you've pointed out, the technology changes very quickly. What I'm looking for is persons who can solve problems, persons who understand the basic networking and database concepts, and persons who understand how to build multi-tier applications. You can teach that person any language.

It would take two to three months and about 10,000-15,000 in training, "initially". If you're paying that person a salary of about 50-60k as OldFort suggested, you've basically gotten a Bahamian programmer for 70k, that's extremely reasonable. Also I blame your company, the individual has an obligation to look after their training but that company should have been paying for at least one course per year to keep them up to date in new technologies with an optional trade fair.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I also don't buy the argument of "there's no time". I worked for a company that went with a foreign firm and the initial contract was peanuts to what they spent in fixes upgrades, support calls and travel expenses over a 5 year period. It's a researched fact tbat maintenance is minimum double the cost of development. Time is a given. Most people overlook that. Any Software firm who's honest with you will tell you they're looking to make money in the maintenance phase. Apple does it to. The device is the least of their concerns, they're marketing accessories

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

We use the latest in technology to create algorithms to trade stocks, derivatives, bonds , securities and synthetics. Our staff of PhD mathematicians devise new algorithms every quarter, and they have to be rushed into production. I don't wish to argue with you. I am just pointing out the realities in our office. Not only do the programmers need to be well versed in whatever language, they need to be very well versed in math. One coding sheet I saw said "Take the resultant array values and compute the Pearson Co-efficient". Not your father's programmer.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

. I'm not saying you can pick anyone off the street and sit them in the chair. An algorithm is just a series of steps to a solution. No one asked the programmer to create the algorithm, that's what you hired the math guys for. They asked them to translate it into code. If you know the steps in the algorithm, translating it into code isn't hard. Where you might have a problem is if you're talking about manipulating graphics , if it just displaying data ...I don't get it

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I'd also suggest ensuring that your programmers take training and refresher courses in software architecture and design every so often. Unless they start programming air, those principles won't be going through any dramatic changes

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1710.08291.pdf According to a geek sitting nearby, he says that finding data via sql is old hat and the principles have changed using graph searches and edges. The opening 2 lines of the paper that he referred me to that he is trying to implement is: We consider the task of rendezvous in networks modeled as undirected graphs. Two mobile agents with different labels, starting at different nodes of an anonymous graph, have to meet.

Good Luck.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Traversing a graph? Like bgp? I maintain anyone can learn anything....well almost anything, not going into medicine

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

LOL medicine -- not traversing a graph -- searching with weak and strong protocols in a Bayesian fashion via graph edges using brand new algorithm (full disclosure -- I do not know what this means -- the person looking over my shoulder does).

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Ok, You have an array of objects each representing a node in the graph, start traversing the graph at two separate points, edges, (don't know what the actual algorithm is but ) it should result in both "agents" taking a path that results in them ending up at the same node...I guess there's some selection process in the algorithm that helps each "agent" decide n the next node to take....thats my best guess...I confess I don't know if I came across that before so I doubt it. My point is, the fact that I don't know that exact thing doesn't say I can't learn it. But you've picked an "edge" case, I'm betting you that's not the application for most programmers. Your work permit looks ok:) "Bayesian theorem" my head hurts back to 20 years

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Thomas Bayes was a British minister of the cloth. He was an amateur mathematician. At the time Sir Isaac Newton was the Head of the Royal Society - a science organisation. Newton invented calculus, but to put it bluntly, he was a complete prick and got into fights with everyone and sued as many people as possible. Bayes wrote a newspaper article defending Newton. Newton rewarded him by making him a member of the Royal Society. Since Bayes was a member, he thought that he should make a contribution to science. He used his math background to create formulas to prove the existence of God. Everyone said "That's a-nice" and put them on the shelf for over 200 years. Then they were dusted off, and now they are the basis of computer artificial intelligence. Irony !

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Ok! So I checked this thing out, couldn't resist. it's JavaScript, uses Mvc pattern and links with REst services on the back end. From what I understand learning is just using what you know to build a link to new information. I'll let you know how it went in January/February.

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birdiestrachan 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Every Bahamian should be insulted when Mr.Myers say he can not find Bahamians to manager stores. But the wash house man said the same things and the Bahamian people voted for him.

Banker and Myers are both underestimating Bahamians. Putting them down. But this is what the peoples time voters voted for. so they should enjoy the crumbs from the table of the elite.

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Birdie, I will try to be kind. It is a chore, but I will. There is a major difference between elite and functional. Why do you think, as a country, we are so low on the human development index?

What most unenlightened folks don't realise, is that protectionism is just for people who are bad at what they do. They can't compete without state protection. If we ever want to rise up, we need to up our game, and get decent benchmarks like foreigners who know how to do a job and do it efficiently. If a foreign comes in and generates huge economic offset, we all win -- even the person who's job was taken. It's a fact.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I believe the government "should" present opportunities for those Bahamians who can be trained to be trained. Bring them up to speed. Hire the skills IF you've carried out a search in good faith and truly can't find them. But give the Bahamians an opportunity to improve their skills. What I read in this article sounds like an edict fir all black Bahamians to go back to the chain gang. And I don't usually do the race thing, but that's what I see when Myers starts telling me he can't find "middle managers"

Anyway...back to work...I preparing to compete with the world

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Totally concur with your sentiment. Bahamians need to be empowered. They need a society of empowerment, not being put down. But you don't create by locking up the society, but by opening it up.

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erikjrussell 1 month, 2 weeks ago

There is a tragic dearth of people trained, capable, honest and ethical to fill technology jobs in our country. Anyone that denies this has never tried to hire staff to fill technical positions and doesn't understand what is required.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

We could make that statement for the next 20 years. I recall a conversation a few years ago where CCTV was suggested as part of a solution to crime. someone responded "you know his long that will take??!! Start thinking!". Throwing up hands and pointing out the issue today does nothing to remove the issue tomorrow. There are hundreds of Bahsmians who could be trained for entry into tech. Everybody een a tief and everybody een dumb (no u didn't say that, just making a point)

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Economist 1 month, 2 weeks ago

What is interesting is that there are many capable Bahamians who are working in other countries. They are not coming back because the the climate of efficiency is not here. We also spend our time trying to bring educated people down to our own grade "D average" mentality.

Those Bahamians who are working in other countries did not need the Department of Immigration to protect them either. They got their jobs fair and square.

We need to change our attitude here at home.

I would open up immigration much more. We all do better when we have competition.

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banker 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Working in another country was an eye-opener for me. It is like a breath of fresh air. Things happen on time. Things are efficient. Life is more pleasant. The people are happier and more pleasant. The news isn't always bad. The biggest thrill for me, is the lack of negativity.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

You are right! I had the opportunity about 7 years ago to work around people that I thought were far more advanced than me and it was heaven. And you know what's weird, I'm here in the Bahamas and yesterday you opened my eyes to something I didn't know. In a few hours I've already stretched my brain. Bringing in new knowledge is a good thing. We just need the right mix.

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evalynC 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Banker, please go back to where you're from. You are one of the low skilled under educated foreigners who can make it here because Bahamians love foreigners. BUT the truth is that you are NO BODY in your own country. Go back home!

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