Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said the Government of the Virgin Islands has suspended ‘the acceptance and issuance’ of new, temporary and periodic work permit applications until July 31.
However, work permits for persons who are changing jobs and positions and who are already resident in the territory will be accepted.
These were just some of the changes Wheatley announced during a public address via social media on Sunday afternoon.
Joint clearance deferred
The minister said Cabinet also deferred joint clearance for persons with approved work permits.
“As the public has been made aware, the borders of the Virgin Islands have been closed until June 2020 at which time a phased opening will be initiated to only receive BVIslanders, Belongers and persons holding Certificates of Residence for the BVI,” he said.
Wheatley, however, said he is mindful that there were individuals who may have received clearance before the territory went into lockdown mode due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and he has received approval from Cabinet to extend the internal policy on issuing clearances.
“Therefore, the Immigration and Labour and Workforce Development departments can now issue a maximum of two re-issuances of work permit clearances for any person in possession of a valid clearance who was unable to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent airport closures and restrictions on travel. This would allow an intended employee to have a total of up to nine months before the work permit becomes invalid,” he said.
For individuals who are jobless, Wheatley said they can seek other employment opportunities in the territory.
He explained that the process involves applying to the Acting Chief Immigration Officer Ian Penn for the option to receive a conditional permit under Section 31(1) (c) and 31(1A) of the Immigration & Passport (Amendment) Act, 2016.
This, he said, will enable persons who have been residing in the territory for at least five years and not having a previous conditional permit within the last three years to remain in the territory while seeking another job for up to three months.
“We are mindful that not all employees who have been terminated will qualify for such a permit. I am also cognizant that this may call for some non-BVI employees to leave the territory if no viable job opportunities are readily available to them. I, however, want to state that while we know that other jurisdictions are already asking persons on work permits and not currently working to leave during this time, the BVI does not see the need for this action at this time,” Wheatley stated.
Expats will be assisted during transition period
He pledged that the Andrew Fahie administration will assist expatriates during that transition period.
“I am also working with my team to give assistance to workers who may want to return to these beautiful Virgin Islands to reestablish your healthy contributions to our economy,” the minister further noted.
As for current work permit holders whose entry permits (commonly referred to as Immigration time) and their work permits have expired during the lockdown period, he said no penalties will be issued.
He further said there is no need for these persons to seek an extension from the Immigration Department before submitting their permits for renewal.
If persons were laid off, they should make an appointment to visit the Immigration Department for the necessary extensions to ensure that they are legally residing during this period, he added.