In recent days the Immigration Department has promised a raft of common-sense reforms designed to rectify longstanding inefficiencies and help mitigate the disorder that has plagued the agency since Hurricane Irma.
This is good news. The new systems — which were a long time in coming — should be implemented quickly, transparently and permanently, and other related measures should follow soon.
The situation at the department in recent weeks has placed a needless drag on the economy during this crucial recovery period. At a time when the territory simply cannot afford to waste time, thousands of people — who include employees and volunteers — have been forced to wait for hours for no rational reason.
We understand that Irma brought setbacks to Immigration, but some of the practices the department stubbornly maintained were pointless at best.
Thankfully, the reforms seem to address the worst of them. For instance, the promised arrangement will enable requests for entry-permit renewals and extensions to be submitted electronically and processed in employees’ absence. An appointment system set to take effect today should complement that initiative by designating certain days for specific purposes.
Such measures should have come years ago. In fact, some of them were on the way pre-Irma, after the consultant McKinsey & Company in 2015 recommended various reforms to Labour and Immigration processes as part of a study on how to bolster the financial services sector.
Government had begun launching those initiatives before the storms, promising after a steep fee hike that work permit renewals would be fully processed within two weeks, new work permits within a month. This is a reasonable timeframe, and there is no reason why the agencies shouldn’t be working quickly toward that goal again.
Rebuilding stronger after the hurricane certainly will bring growing pains, but in this case we see no obvious drawbacks: The new system should save time for Immigration officials as well as their customers.
Moving forward, we hope to see further reforms. The Labour Department, for one, should follow in Immigration’s footsteps by allowing work-permit applicants to submit their materials electronically and set specific appointments to pick them up.
Ultimately, we see no reason why the two agencies can’t work together much more closely to provide a one-stop shop for processing new work permits and renewals with minimal hassle — as is done in other jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands.
To be sure, both departments must follow the law and carefully screen applicants entering the territory. But they also must do so efficiently, and the system that has been in place for decades is anything but.
We hope the new reforms herald a sea change.