A new labour task force is on track to meet the promised one-month deadline to clear out the hundreds of backlogged work permit applications that are slowing the territory’s economic recovery, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said during a press conference on Friday.
Mr. Wheatley announced that the eight-member task force, which was announced on March 18 and consists mainly of retired public officers, has retrieved 500 and processed 305 work permit renewal applications of the 1,541 that were on file in mid-February, when the government’s online system stopped accepting applications.
Additionally, they retrieved 203 and processed 103 outstanding applications for new permits or changes of employer, he said.
“Please note that the data presented is a snapshot in time,” Mr. Wheatley warned. “Given that these numbers are changing on a regular basis, they will be updated weekly.”
The numbers only apply to online applications submitted between July 2021 and February 2022, he said.
Task force members include Janice Rymer, Dawn O’Neal George, Marieta Headley, Myrna Samuels, Reginald Hodge, Ernest Potter, Devon Penn and Keida Williams, according to the minister.
“Their expertise and experience means that they can step in and provide immediate and direct support to the department,” Mr. Wheatley said. “It is envisioned that with the hiring of these additional persons for a one-month period, not only will it help to clear the work permit applications from the system, but it will also bring work permit processing times back in line with the department’s service standards” by April 18.
After Premier Andrew Fahie promised on March 11 that the backlog of nearly 2,000 work permit renewal applications would be cleared within a month, Mr. Wheatley announced on March 18 that the task force had been formed to tackle the issue, which he largely blamed on staffing shortages and Covid-19-related quarantines that slowed down progress.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated online system that rolled out last July has not delivered the improvements that government promised in the years leading up to its release. The system was billed as the vanguard of the public sector’s digital transformation, and initially it accepted applications for new permits and renewals alike.
However, in December, it stopped accepting renewals, which were then required to be submitted via hard copy instead. And last month, it stopped accepting applications for new permits.
On Friday, Mr. Wheatley said that since July 2021 the department’s ability to process permits has been “dramatically affected” by labour shortages and effects of the Covid-19 surges.
“Constraints and challenges varied from entire units within the department being quarantined and technical issues within the processing system,” Mr. Wheatley said on Friday, calling the delay “disruptive” for businesses struggling to fill long- and short-term labour needs as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Consequently, he said, staff has been scrambling to address the delays in a variety of ways, including working late hours and weekends; making minor administrative and policy changes to improve efficiency; and adding personnel.
Mr. Wheatley added that government remains focused on ensuring that individuals do not “lose their ability to work because of the lack of a work permit.”
He then explained that the members of the task force may have to call employers or employees and ask them to furnish missing information. He asked applicants to be receptive to these calls in order to speed up the process.
The minister also asked employers who have not heard from the department regarding their uploaded applications to submit a list of outstanding work permit applicants and application ID numbers to email@example.com, with the name of the business in the subject line.
“Once a renewal work permit has been approved, an appointment to collect will be set and an email or text message will be generated informing the applicant or employer of their scheduled time and date to collect the work permit,” he said.