Government is instructing expatriates who are unemployed due to the Covid-19 pandemic to return to their home countries as soon as possible unless they have the requisite permission to seek another job, according to Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley.
“I am aware that in a time like this many persons may be disheartened and frustrated by the decision to have them return to their home country, and though we are walking by faith and not by sight, the reality shows a future filled with bleak times for the world,” Mr. Wheatley said July 10 in the House of Assembly. “We must ask ourselves how long we can carry on, and we must make decisions that are sustainable for the foreseeable future.”
He said the departments handling labour and immigration have continued to see an escalation in the number of people temporarily laid off or terminated because of the pandemic.
During a House of Assembly sitting last month, Mr. Wheatley presented approximate unemployment figures based on data that 337 employers voluntarily submitted to the Department of Labour and Workforce Development before May 22. As of that date, more than 4,000 jobs had been affected by either reduced hours, pay cuts, layoffs or terminations — triple what was reported in early May.
Last Friday, Mr. Wheatley did not provide an update to the employer-provided numbers, but said that 6,650 people had applied for aid through the $10 million government programme that temporarily has been providing assistance to unemployed and underemployed residents.
“Though expected, the harsh reality of persons being unable to sustain their lives has been brought to the forefront,” Mr. Wheatley said, adding, “With the help of the Economic and Fiscal Taskforce, Premier [Andrew] Fahie has been able to present to you, the public, a stimulus plan that reflects several initiatives geared towards helping not only BVIslanders and belongers, but all persons who legally work in our territory.”
But he said this large-scale financial assistance “cannot last forever.”
Some residents who recently lost their jobs do have avenues for seeking other employment.
Mr. Wheatley said certain workers can apply for a conditional permit through acting Chief Immigration Officer Ian Penn. But this option typically is only available to people who have resided in the Virgin Islands for at least five years and have not previously received a conditional permit within the past three years, he said. Conditional permitholders will have an extra three months to try finding another job, he explained.
People who don’t qualify but have a viable alternative job available can still contact Mr. Penn, who has the power to make allowances at his discretion, according to the minister.
“However, the reality is some people will not be able to find alternative jobs, and without financial or family support will be required to leave the territory,” Mr. Wheatley said.
The Labour Code, 2010 prioritises the employment of Virgin Islanders and belongers, and the job market is shrinking, he added.
“We therefore ask that persons falling within this category of being released from permanent employment, being unable to find alternative work and unable to obtain a conditional permit, begin to make the necessary arrangements to return to their homeland or an approved receiving jurisdiction of their choosing,” he said.
He urged expatriates to register the details of their departure with the Immigration Department via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, employees wishing to renew their regular work permits must submit new information, the minister announced.
Effectively immediately, he said, renewal applications must include letters of the company’s good standing with the Social Security Board, Inland Revenue Department and National Health Insurance, as well as certificates of earnings from SSB and IRD for the employee.
Mr. Wheatley said these changes are meant to ensure that employees and employers comply with government requirements for working in the territory.
The ministry also asks businesses in the territory to continue keeping it abreast of layoffs and terminations.
“This information will allow government to continue to accurately assess the workforce conditions and aid in the direction of any further stimulus or assistance for the people of this territory,” Mr. Wheatley said.
A template explaining what information employers should provide is available at www.gov.vg.
“Also, be reminded that it is illegal to seek alternative or temporary employment when laid off without the proper approvals,” he said. “If you are a work permit holder and have found temporary work, please visit the Department of Labour and Workforce Development for information on the legal way to engage in these types of work.”
Mr. Wheatley also issued a warning for anyone who may be working illegally.
“If you are bonded by and hold a work permit with one employer, you should not partake in employment with another entity, operate as self-employed, or partake in any part-time or temporary employment without the approvals of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and the Immigration Department,” he said.
Effectively immediately, both government departments will be cracking down on illegal employment, Mr. Wheatley warned.