Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith announced that the changes recently made to the Immigration Department are expected to alleviate the present issue of extended lines and frustrated employers and volunteers.
“The changes…would definitely result in reduced waiting times, removal of those long lines from immigration and of course much more efficiency at what we are doing,” the Premier said on 15 February during a press conference in response to questions from the media about the steps he was prepared to take to remedy the frustrating situations.
During that press conference Hon. Smith said: “What is happening is: the Immigration Department is going about its work in a normal way and because of the disaster, because of the need to have more people coming in to work on rebuilding and reconstructing it has become a little bit excessive the way the workload is. I have had discussions with the Immigration Department.”
The issues reported in the media, belabored in the community, and even the Premier said that it was brought to his attention, involve situations where volunteers were reportedly made to wait an entire day. Employees had to arrive as early as 5:00 a.m just to get their time rectified while others had to return to be able to sort their immigration status out.
The immigration situation was also bemoaned by employers who were trying to import skilled labour for rebuilding purposes and described the situation as draining. All of these views were allegedly taken to Premier Smith who during the press conference did not delve into details of the plans to sort the situation out but rather issued a statement on the following day chronicling Government’s plans to remedy the issues of immigration.
In the 16 February Statement Hon. Smith said that Government recognises the inconvenience caused to individuals and businesses when persons have to wait for extended period of time at the Immigration Department to renew entry permits or extensions.
The BVI Leader said that the long lines is one part of the problem while the increase workload of Immigration Officers is another: “While this is happening, at the same time, the Immigration Department must process increasing numbers of new entry permits because of the influx of persons who are coming to assist with recovery and restoration projects.”
“We have therefore decided that as of Monday 19 February, any company can have their entry permits processed for the employees by having all the documents for the employees sent from the company directly to the Immigration Department. This would also apply for the owners or managers of companies. We are now testing an online application process for entry permits and we expect this to be up and running within the next few weeks. Again, this will add to the efficiency of the application process at the Immigration Department.”
As it relates to volunteers Hon. Smith added: “We also welcome volunteer groups who are coming to assist us with the rebuilding and restoration process. We ask that the organisation or person responsible for volunteer groups or the volunteer to apply to the Immigration Department. Persons must write to the Chief Immigration Officer, indicating the name of the parent organization (and) when persons are expected to arrive in the Territory and the length of the stay. This request will then be facilitated by the Immigration Department.”