The Department of Labour and Workforce Development plans to launch an online work-permit system soon. (File Photo: The BVI Beacon)

The government’s first online work-permit system shut down in February 2022 after barely six months in operation. Now, officials are trying again.

Work-permit processing and private-sector job applications will be available online by the end of June as part of ongoing reforms at the Department of Labour and Workforce Development, Deputy Premier Lorna Smith said during a press conference April 4.

Soon after that, the current work-permit renewal backlog will be eradicated as the system becomes fully digitised following a pilot phase, according to Ms. Smith, who is also the minister for financial services, labour and trade.

“The labour management system goes beyond the streamlining of work-permit processing,” she said. “It provides valuable data to identify skills gaps and develop targeted workforce development strategies.

“This data will empower us to forge stronger partnerships with educational institutions and employers.”

Previous system

In previous attempts at reform, the department launched a much-anticipated online work-permit system in July 2021.

However, it stopped accepting renewals in December 2021 and closed down completely in February 2022, prompting businesses to complain about long delays in the permitting process.

Last Thursday, Ms. Smith denied that the new planned system represents an overhaul of the previous initiative.

“I don’t know about an old system that failed,” she said. “This is a system where the whole of the labour system will be online. … Employers will be advertising their jobs, and [employees] would then be able to make applications via the system for the jobs.”

‘Completely new’

Mervin Hastings, who was appointed acting labour commissioner last month, said the reforms are expected to benefit the territory’s economy and jobs market.

“The entire system is completely new,” he said during the press conference last Thursday. “Jobseekers and employers will be able to go online, apply and register. And the entire process is online.”

Employees will also be able to review all available jobs through the platform, according to Mr. Hastings.

“All labour officers can see how many local applicants you interview, how many expatriates, how you made that decision — and then we can, further, make a decision,” he added.

Mr. Hastings said the system would also speed up work permit renewals.

“Very importantly, you’ll be able to pay for your work-permit application via online,” he said. “The system will be responsible for renewals. We are going to have a pilot session where a few companies in the Virgin Islands will be piloting the system.”

Firms will be able to pre-register their workers for the renewal process, according to the acting commissioner.

“A company that has, let’s say, 100 employees that needs to get renewed, they will pre-register all their employees into the system,” he said. “So when they come to renew their employees, it is a matter of them just clicking their employee and hitting the renew button, and it is already all there.”

Under the new system, he added, permits will be renewed within two to four weeks.

“I expect the renewal process to be extremely quick,” he said.

Mr. Hastings added that he expects improvements in the system to be seen within weeks.

“Right now, we are a couple of weeks behind, but … we are hoping by next week also to have our backlogs covered,” he said. “This new system is going to help us a lot.”

Workers abroad

He added that the new initiative will also benefit Virgin Islanders working abroad.

“We are hoping that every single BVIslander who is not employed in the BVI can also create their own profile in the system,” he said. “So if you are looking for a job, once you register in the system you’ll be able to access every single job that’s posted within the system and apply to them.

“All locals will be able to log into the system [and] apply before it goes anywhere else.”

The deputy premier said such reforms will bring a “new era” allowing the government to better monitor the needs of employees.

“Together we can also optimise opportunities for Virgin Islanders and others to actively participate in the workforce,” she said. “We will, in fact, be among the first paperless offices in government at the Labour Department.”

Other plans

She also outlined other plans, including the revitalisation of the National Business Bureau and the appointment of a new business development manager in the Department of Trade, Investment and Promotion and Consumer Affairs.

“The National Business Bureau will foster a supportive ecosystem through mentorship, training, technical advice and networking opportunities,” she said. “I am also pleased to announce a draft policy for the micro, small and medium enterprises.

“This programme will provide financial assistance for locally owned medium and small businesses and foster an environment conducive to their growth.”

Ms. Smith also talked up a banking expo planned for June.

“The BVI banking expo in June will bring together financial institutions, our regulator, business owners and entrepreneurs from throughout the territory to discuss the latest trends and innovations in banking and offer advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs on navigating the banking industry,” she said.