As the push to reform labour and immigration rules in the Territory continues Minister for Natural Resources, Labour, and Immigration Hon. Vincent Wheatley declared that not everyone applying under the new criteria will be granted an exemption. This announcement comes on the heels of changes that were made last year to the work permit exemption policies among which was the removal of a categories that previously allowed for the application of exemption of a work permit.
Last year government revised the Work Permit Exemption policy, among the changes was the removal of the policy which previously allowed persons who attended school in the Territory to be able to apply for a work permit exemption. Now under the new policy persons can only apply for a work permit if they are married to a Virgin Islander, has been residing in the Virgin Islands consecutively for 15 years or more, and by the Minister’s discretion.
However, the Minister explained during a recent government interview that even if an individual met the three criteria they will not automatically be entitled to an exemption as other things will be taken into consideration. “The general thinking is: is it going to be some benefit to the individual in the first instance and the wider community and the Territory in the second instance. If you applied for an exemption and if you meet the 15 years requirement – let’s say for example you make a very large salary and there is no clear reason why exemption is going to be beneficial to the Territory and only yourself that’s one of the grounds for being denied exemption; also maybe the profession that you are in might again qualify you for being denied.”
Hon. Wheatley further announced that there are several factors that would be looked at for denying work permit exemption. He said as the Minister for the subject he would want to know why persons who are applying for exemption are seeking such. “You apply for exemption we want to know why do you want exemption and that’s a very individual thing. Each person may apply for a different reason. For example, some may apply because their work — their salary is so low that by saving the money they pay for their work permit it might make a difference to their lives. Other folks may want it because it gives them greater mobility in finding jobs. Depending on the reason they want exemption we … have to decide if it is to be granted. If there is enough grounds to grant them an exemption.”
Hon. Wheatley stated, “It’s not just for giving for exemption sake, we want to make sure that it is of some value to the person as well as to the Territory.
As part of the changes it was explained that persons who would have left the Territory for three months or more would have to start over. “If you live in the Territory and you leave for longer than 90 days, your time is erased and you have to start back from zero.
Additionally, the Minister mentioned that government is no longer issuing work permit exemptions for extended or indefinite period. “That practice has been cancelled. We no longer do indefinite exemptions. The reason for it is: exemption is not a status. It is a programme facilitated to assist certain persons in certain circumstances. It’s not to be seen as a status. The maximum you will get for exemption now is six years. We expect you to apply for residency or Belonger status after that period so it is no longer indefinite,” Hon. Wheatley noted.
The Minister said that the exemption programme is being used by government as a subsidy to businesses and organizations. “We are right now exploring to see how we can widen that base of organizations of persons who we would give exemption as a subsidy to the organization, not just to a person but to an organization,” the Minister noted.
Hon. Wheatley further emphasized that the granting of work permits cannot be a one-way benefit. Whenever we are granting an exemption we do lose a certain revenue so we have to make sure that we know how we are going to make up that lost revenue.”