Speaking at the Seventh Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly on Thursday, April 15, 2021, Hon Wheatley said the Work Permit Exemption Policy is one that is ever-evolving and requires reviewing, revising and renewing as the climate continues to change in the territory.
“Firstly, Mister Speaker, I want to bring awareness to the public on the reason for such a policy, as it has become more evident that a policy such as this can easily be misused, whether unintentionally or otherwise. The Work Permit Exemption Policy is one that has grown immensely over the years in the number of persons that apply and are successful,” he said.
He stated that after taking up office in 2019, he quickly revised this policy, with the most substantial change being where he added a term limit to the exemption, resulting in the ceasing of the issuance of indefinite work permit exemptions.
“Mister Speaker, it remains my belief that this change has allowed for the correct intent and purpose of the exemption to be realised. Further to this, the reality of persons abusing this exemption by categorising it as a “permanent status” must cease. Mister Speaker, Work Permit Exemption is not a permanent status. It does not allow a person to change employer freely, and it does not exempt a holder from immigration control.”
He reminded persons that a permanent status is one gained by a person under the recommendation of the Immigration Board to Cabinet or by virtue of the Constitution. Residence Status, Belonger Status and a Naturalized Citizen are permanent statuses unless revoked under the Immigration and Passport Act or otherwise, while work permit exemption is at the discretion of the Minister for Labour and it is in no way meant to be considered as a permanent status as it is indeed a privilege and not a right.
He said after a constant debate on what this policy should look like, another review was undertaken.
“Early in this review, we considered the trending issues, and it was agreed firstly to re-establish the connection of an approved Work Permit Exemption to a specific employer. The intent here is to allow the holder of such an exemption to be more conscious of the importance of continued employment, which will be realised by the automatic cancellation of the exemption if a person changes his or her employer.”
He also chided employers for what he described as the use of ‘the misleading statement of “work permit exemption holders preferred” right along with VIslanders and Belonger on job advertisements.”
“Mister Speaker, this is seen as a means of defying the work permit process and ultimately marginalises VIslander and Belongers by allowing someone not holding a permanent status to be seen as on the same playing field as a VIslander/Belonger. This too, Mister Speaker, is wrong...and the revised policy will address this.”
He also said he had reduced once more the categories of persons eligible to qualify for work permit exemption by removing the category of tenure.
“Therefore, persons are no longer eligible to apply for work permit exemption if employed for any specific number of years within the Territory. Mister Speaker, this will fall into line with the pending immigration reform and the aim to formalise both immigration and labour policies as it relates to the number of years a person can reside in the Territory while on a work permit, prior to their possibly transitioning into a permanent resident.”
He said; however, the categories of Work Permit Exemption by marriage and Minister’s discretion will remain, albeit with new guidelines.
“Mister Speaker, I would also like to point out that a grading scheme has been introduced to the Minister’s discretion category that will allow for a more streamlined, consistent, and fair approval of applications. Mister Speaker, the Work Permit Exemption issuance in this Territory will move from a situation of subsidy to one of substance,” he added.