He made that statement during a stakeholders meeting held recently to address labour concerns being faced by employers and work permit holders in the territory.
Persons have complained bitterly that their work permit applications and renewals have been held up for months at a time at the Labour Department with no clear indication of when they will be processed.
That in mind, one resident complained that while employees are waiting for the Labour Department to process their work permits, their immigration time has been expiring.
Furthermore, the employees are faced with additional expenses in having to pay for Immigration extensions during this time.
“With the delays in processing, employers are getting [extended] time from [the] Immigration [Department] but it is expiring before approvals. Can anything be done to avoid the employee keep having to pay for time, or [having to] sit several times in Immigration?” the resident asked.
The person added that they were recently able to get a work permit approved at the Labour Department, but said the first available appointment date with the department would have been after the employee’s extended Immigration time had expired.
The resident explained that this resulted in a lost appointment at the Labour Department and further delays to the process since work permits are not usually processed if persons do not have valid Immigration time.
“I don’t see how you could necessarily punish somebody for that,” Minister Wheatley said in response.
He added: “I would find that to be a bit unfair to someone; that while they’re waiting for one thing for the same government, they’re being punished by the other department because of efficiencies in the system.”
Minister Wheatley said he would consult with Chief Immigration Officer, Ian Penn, to determine how the Immigration Act deals with such situations.
Penn, meanwhile, said the Immigration Department sometimes grants extensions up to six weeks or even two months at times for work permit applicants.
He also said that it was concerning that persons sometimes have to be granted renewals for as much as six months.
“I am not willing to give somebody as much as six months or even more so that they can just wait on a permit from the Labour [Department] because if you look to give somebody so much time to be here in the territory legally, some persons could still forget to know that they still have to go to Labour,” Penn said.
He also noted that granting six-month extensions did not guarantee that work permits would be completed within that timeframe either.
Meanwhile, Acting Labour Commissioner Michelle McLean suggested that she normally facilitates persons who face this dilemma.
“I would normally call [the] Immigration [Department] and once they give the OK for the person to go ahead and collect, we will normally go through the process and then they will go over to Immigration and they will deal with them,” McLean said.