Fellow British Virgin Islanders and residents,
Good day and God’s blessings…
Just about seven weeks ago, the House of Assembly passed the Immigration and Passports (Amendment) Act 2019, clearing the way for the commencement of the first phase of government’s programme to reform the laws, policies and systems that regulate immigration and labour in the Virgin Islands.
You would recall your government saying that this First Phase is necessary for fast-tracking the processing of applications for Resident and Belonger status that are trapped in a backlog, as well as those of other potential applicants who have been living in the Territory for very long periods of time.
I must reiterate that this is a one-time exercise for persons who have lived in the Territory for 20 years and have contributed positively to the Territory. It does not apply to persons who have newly arrived in the Territory, and it will not open any floodgates for immigrants.
You would also recall that your government paused the debate on this matter in the House of Assembly and opened up the issue for public consultation based on requests from certain quarters of the national population.
Your government listened to the comments from members of the public who attended the public meetings, wrote emails and letters, aired their views through the media and provided feedback in other ways, and we amended the policy to reflect the wishes of the people.
Firstly, and most significantly, the consultations brought focus on the concerns of 3rd Generation Virgin Islanders living overseas who, due to circumstances beyond their control, stand to lose their identity as members of our BVI family. The policy was, thus, adjusted to ensure that our 3rd Generation descendants are taken care of.
Secondly, the ceiling for consideration for Belonger Status was increased from our initial proposed time of 15 years to 20 years. Only persons who have met the existing criteria and who have been making good contributions to our society will qualify for consideration.
I want to emphasize that submission of an application to this fast-track programme by expatriates does not translate into automatic approval of Belonger or Resident status. Additionally, no procedural requirements are being circumvented. All applications will be subjected to the normal criteria, scrutiny and procedures, and only those applications that meet the requirements will succeed.
Having listened to the people, adjusted the policy accordingly, and having given the Immigration Department the time needed to put the necessary measures in place, it is now time to implement this fast-tracking programme.
Commencing on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, persons can collect their application forms for the fast track programme from the Immigration Department at RJT Edifice Building, Wickham’s Cay I, and they can also submit completed application forms at the same location.
Third generation applicants will have six weeks to return their completed application forms and supporting documents to regularize their status as Belongers, while other applicants for Belonger Status and Residency will have three weeks before the fast track window closes.
Persons are asked to note the following special fees that apply to this fast track programme:
1. Relative to the grant of Certificate that a person Belongs (Belonger) – $800 per
2. Persons qualifying for both Resident and Belonger Status – $1,500 per applicant.
3. Third Generation descendants – $800 per applicant.
An additional $10 fee would be charged for the issuance of the relevant card bearing proof of the status received.
Persons who, for one reason or the other, are unable to meet the deadline, will be able to pursue applications for Belonger and Resident Status through the regular channels and at the regular fees.
I wish to take this opportunity to implore all persons who are suitably qualified to participate in this exercise to do so. Persons who have relatives living abroad who may qualify as 3rd Generation descendants are urged to contact them and to alert them of the programme, the requirements and the deadline so that they do not miss out on this opportunity.
I want to assure all citizens that your government is more than familiar with the concerns that have troubled our Virgin Islanders for years-on-end with respect to our immigration and labour laws and systems.
There is a widespread belief that these laws and systems are not effective in seeking and protecting the welfare of our citizens and local businesses. These concerns have strong merit. They are real.
But these problems cannot be fixed with “big talk”. They require careful, deliberate, strategic action, which is why your government has undertaken to treat with this matter in a step-by-step approach.
This first phase of our immigration and labour reform strategy involves tying off loose ends. This will give us a clean slate for introducing a new framework of policies that will better serve Virgin Islanders.
It will bring closure to certain outstanding matters and shut the floodgates so that persons will no longer be able to remain unchecked in the Territory for extended periods of time only for them to show up one day with certain claims. The reforms will prevent persons from entering the Territory for one purpose and switching to another immigration status, as has been the norm. They will also put stricter controls on the issue of work permits and the renewal of work permits.
Your government has taken note of the cries of our people that they are being disadvantaged in the workplace; that arbitrary conditions are being attached to jobs to lock them out of opportunities. We are aware that persons have been flouting their statutory obligations with respect to Income Tax, Social Security and NHI. We are aware that persons are entering the country on work permits for fake jobs, and that many of those individuals are freelancing, thereby depriving others of an opportunity to have employment.
To immediately clamp down on this situation, I have directed the Ministers concerned of the need to ensure that new policies are put in place that would require all requests for work permit renewals to be accompanied by a good standing certificate from NHI, Social Security and Inland Revenue.
This is to ensure that, among other things, all businesses and persons on work permits are playing their part to strengthen government’s resolve to more adequately tackle the social and health ills of the Territory by securing the revenue that may be escaping the coffers of your Government’s Treasury.
As we progress with the overall reform agenda, public consultations will be held to allow the population to have an input into shaping the reform policies at the appropriate stage of the process.
The citizens who elected this government into office in February, did not mandate us to sit on our hands and to warm our seats in the House of Assembly. They charged us to make the tough decisions and to solve the problems that have been undermining their quality of life and creating injustice for our people.
This government has taken this responsibility very seriously, as illustrated by the volume of work that we have taken on and completed in the last five months.
We have made progress in stopping the downward spiral of our cruise tourism industry. Cruise lines are returning and we are creating new economic opportunities for our people to benefit from this sector.
We have expedited the repairs to our schools so that our children can have a comfortable learning environment, and our teachers a comfortable, professional environment.
We have started the process to repair the incinerator at Pockwood Pond and to find a long-term sustainable solution to waste disposal and waste management.
Consumer protection legislation will soon be a reality.
Our soon-to-be-launched 1,000 jobs in 1,000 days initiative will ensure that all our residents will have an opportunity to be gainfully employed.
And much more is in the pipeline.
This government has made it our motto that inaction is not an option.
My fellow Virgin Islanders and residents, we must join hands and work together to build our country. The competitive, globalized world has created new challenges to add to our old ones. But, the BVI will overcome it all as we unite and focus on our common vision. We have done it in the past and we will do it again. We simply have to commit to transformation.
In closing, I wish to thank all the persons who have contributed thus far to bringing this fast track initiative to this point. This includes the Minister of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, the staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, the Chief Immigration Officer, the Immigration Department, and all our other hard working and dedicated public officers. I also wish to thank our civic-minded citizens who contributed their views and suggestions towards improving the legislation and the process. I am confident that our collective efforts will bear the fruits that we have envisaged.
May God continue to bless and keep our Territory and our people as together we move in one direction – Forward.
I thank you.