Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH staggering rates of unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Immigration Minister Ellsworth Johnson has again issued a warning on work permits, saying not all work permit holders in the country will be able to get their documents renewed.
Instead, Mr Johnson said foreigners granted work permits would be replaced by Bahamian workers who have been deemed “competent” by officials to take over those roles.
This, according to the minister, is part of the government’s efforts to tackle unemployment amid the pandemic.
“We know that 50 percent of the population is (estimated to be) unemployed, some work permits will not be renewed. Where we have fit and proper competent Bahamians to do the job, they will be given that opportunity to do the job,” he said on Tuesday.
“And so, what we have done in the increment because persons are sheltering in The Bahamas, the competent authority has extended annual work permits with the understanding that we’ve already refused some work permits.
“(For example if) you’re a training manager, how many training managers (do) we have in the Bahamas who can do that job now? And so, we’re going through that process along with (the Department of) Labour to do it as humanely possible as we possibly can.”
According to Mr Johnson, this also applies to other areas of work where Bahamians are found to be equipped with the necessary skills to complete the job.
“We are a brilliant and competent people and so no areas are really exempt,” he said.
“Once you come ahead and you could prove at the end of the day because when you ask somebody to come into the country to work by way of a work permit, we should’ve done our due diligence to ensure that there’s no fit and proper Bahamians to do it who have the skills.
“But when you find that there is that skill set, then you bring someone in.”
He continued: “Also, there’s supposed to be a component where you’re training to build capacity so where you find that someone comes in by the way of the permit and at the end of the day, you would find that if they would train ten Bahamians, we love this person.
“Because he’s helping to build capacity in the country. But when you bring someone and after 10 years… you find that there is nobody who can acquire this skill, something is wrong, so we have to do it in a tactful and meaningful way.”
In August, Mr Johnson said the government will not be issuing any new work permits, except under “urgent circumstances”.
Earlier this year, Labour Director John Pinder noted that more than 40,000 work permits have been granted in the country. At the time, he also said officials have been finding that work permit applicants are not being completely truthful about the roles foreign employees are taking.
Asked Tuesday if applicants could see the process for getting work permits become more stringent, the minister suggested it potentially could.
Mr Johnson also lamented the need for full digitisation in the Immigration Department to effectively respond to the needs of its applicants, especially those applying for citizenship.
“What we’ve done in the Immigration Department is we’re forcefully pushing the digitisation process. We’re tired of persons saying they can’t find their documents. COVID-19, as devastating as it is, has reassured us of the urgency to fully digitise,” he said.
“There’s no reason why you should not be able to upload your application online, pay online and get a temporary response and for the system to produce an algorithm to say within a reasonable time, this is when we’ll deal with your application – we’ve appointed a steering committee to that.”