The rollout of a much-vaunted initiative to put work-permit applications and renewals online has been hit by “inevitable teething issues,” Deputy Premier Lorna Smith said last week.

Ms. Smith, who is minister for financial services, labour and trade, would not be drawn on when the initiative will be fully operational, stating only that it would come “by summer.”

The last attempt at an online work-permit system shut down in failure in February 2022 after barely six months in operation.

The new initiative aims to turn around work-permit renewals in two weeks and issue new ones within four weeks.

The deputy premier claimed last week that “significant progress” had been made with the Labour Management System, which is also slated to act as a focal point for job searches in the territory. But she acknowledged that more work is needed.

Declining to give a definitive date for the scheme going fully live, Ms. Smith told a press conference on June 12, “It will be online by summer.”

She added, “We are on target. We talked about a pilot, and the pilot is ongoing. I did say we would start with a pilot. There are at least 70 employers that are online already. It is going very well.”

‘Teething issues’

The day after the press conference, the government issued an update acknowledging start-up problems with the system.

“Honourable Smith said despite inevitable teething issues, the transformative impact of the Labour Management System will advance the territory’s labour administration infrastructure,” the update stated. “Minister Smith expressed confidence in the system’s potential to significantly reduce work permit application turnaround times and enhance accessibility for both employers and jobseekers.”

The update also stated that about 33 employers had been “onboarded” in the system in Tortola, with another 27 in Virgin Gorda. Meanwhile, a team from the Ministry of Financial Services, Labour and Trade was preparing to visit Jost Van Dyke and Anegada this week to onboard employers from those islands.

Employee records

About 500 employee records have been added to the system so far, and this is expected to reach close to 1,000 by the end of June, according to government.

“The minister said the preparations were a precursor to the pilot phase, where selected employers were to be onboarded onto the system as part of the rigorous testing that is being undertaken to fine-tune the system’s functionality and address any initial challenges before its full rollout to the public,” the statement added.

Previous failure

The previous reform attempt was launched in July 2021, but stopped taking work-permit renewals that December and was abandoned completely in February of the following year.

Before and after the failure, businesses have long complained about extensive delays in processing the permits.