Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
The Bahamas will launch its much-touted work/study visa on October 22 to ensure it is available in time for the November 1 tourism re-opening, it was revealed yesterday.
The Ministry of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration unveiled the annual visa's launch date amid a series of digital upgrades designed to improve Immigration-related procedures by making them more efficient and user friendly.
Referring specifically to the work/study visa, Elsworth Johnson, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, said: "This innovative programme, which has been fast-tracked by the Government, makes The Bahamas one of the leading innovators in the strategic pursuit of the remote work and study market as the world contends with the global pandemic.
"It not only creates a new revenue stream for the Government through fees collected, and taxes generated, due to increased consumption and import of goods, but it also brings money into the private sector and stimulates business activity." Once launched, it is expected that the Government will begin marketing the programme via a multi-ministry, multi-departmental effort.
The work/study visa's launch lags that of Barbados, which unveiled its Barbados Welcome Stamp proposal - which mirrors this nation's product - in early July amid much global media publicity and interest.
That product is designed to allow tourists to stay in Barbados for 12 months, working remotely from hotels, condos, rental villas and other accommodations. Work spaces will also be made available, as Barbados gained several months' head start in responding to the loss of its traditional leisure tourism market due to COVID-19
The Bahamas' rival effort was recommended by the Government-appointed Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) as part of its 163 proposals for reviving the economy and making it more sustainable in the pandemic's aftermath.
The visa is effectively an extension of The Bahamas’ existing annual residency permit, with the aim being to make the application and approval process much simpler, quicker and efficient. It is designed to inject spending by successful applicants into the domestic economy via landlords (rent); car rentals; retailers; restaurants and a host of other sectors.
Foreign workers and students who qualify for the permit will NOT be allowed to participate in the domestic economy as a condition of its granting. Students must be registered with, and studying online, at a foreign university, while workers must be employed - and paid by - an overseas company.
Such restrictions are intended to reassure Bahamians that local jobs will be protected, especially with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent due to COVID-19. The visa is effectively aiming to attract a different type of visitor, with the hope that ultimately these persons - and their employers - re-domicile to The Bahamas permanently rather than just providing a short-term post-COVID boost.
Kenwood Kerr, the Economic Recovery Committee co-chair, said: “If we get to 1,000 successful applicants and they spend $30,000 on average within the economy on rent, food, and entertainment, that is equal to a much needed $30m injection into the economy.
"Moreover, our marketing will showcase our Family Islands where the potential impact on those smaller island economies will be even more pronounced.”
Elsewhere, the Department of Immigration plans to roll-out its first cashless payment platform next week while reintroducing its Monarch House location on East Bay Street for dealing with all citizenship and permanent residency applications by early November.
Applicants will be able to pay for Immigration-related services via on online portal or at "third party sites", while certified cheque payments will also be available. An e-mail address or mobile phone will be required to gain access, with applicants able to check on the progress of their submissions by December 2020 and apply for permits by the 2021 first quarter.
"We are dedicated to the continued modernisation of all platforms throughout our Ministry," Mr Johnson said. "The Immigration Department has focused its resources on improving the efficiency of our systems and the conveniences offered to the public. I am certain that users of this new system will welcome these changes with open arms.
"All cashless transactions will now be traceable, providing for greater transparency in our processes and eliminating opportunities for anyone to circumvent the systems we have in place. This will help greatly with our 'zero tolerance' approach to corruption, as well as our accountability efforts."