Expats who are seeking permission to remain in Bermuda for more than six years will know by the end of this year whether they will get a reprieve.

Many foreign workers have been waiting to hear from the Department of Immigration whether they will be exempted from tough new immigration laws that will take effect from next April. They require foreign workers to quit the island after six years.

The UBP says the law is not in Bermuda's best interests and would be reviewed if the next election brought about a change in government.

A long list of exemptions is attached to the new law - they include occupations where there is a shortage, locally and overseas, and key employee status for those who are deemed essential to the operations of a company.

Companies who have a good track record of training Bermudians and can prove they are good corporate citizens can also apply for exemptions. A slew of employers are believed to have applied for exemptions on behalf of foreign workers and are waiting to hear.

Labour and Immigration minister Derrick Burgess told the Bermuda Sun yesterday, that he could not give any indication of numbers for who had applied for exemptions, but said: "All those folks should know by the end of December."

Businesses have welcomed the news, but they are still concerned about the practicality of requiring a company to ship foreign workers home after six years only to replace them with another set of foreign workers.

Phil Barnett, chairman of the restaurant and nightclub division of the Chamber of Commerce, said: "At the last meeting there was concern with regard to term limits. The reason there was so much concern was because nobody knows what is going to happen when they make an application."

He said chefs are exempt from the term limits policy because there's a worldwide shortage, but waiters and managers are not. He said waiters earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, including tips, but waiter's positions attract few Bermudian applicants. The biggest barrier is the belief that hours are anti-social. He said the perception that restaurateurs prefer foreign workers because they can pay them less is untrue. If anything, Bermudians earn a little more because employers want to retain them.

Mr. Barnett expressed concern that the industry could end up losing good workers to other countries. He added: "It is these continual issues that arise that throw up another barrier to our success. It's just a concern that we may be getting over bureaucratised."

He said the Chamber has not set up a meeting with Mr. Burgess since he was appointed to his position, but plans to do so. He said the Chamber was pleased that Mr. Burgess had said he is willing to listen.

But Mr. Burgess made it clear the policy would stay. He said it was brought in so that foreign workers would not have the expectation that they could get permanent residency or citizenship in a small, densely populated country like Bermuda.

He added: "We not trying to chuck people out. We appreciate the foreign workers that are here as well as the Bermudian workers."

Martin Law, executive director of the Bermuda Employers' Council, welcomed news that the wait would end soon.

He said Mr. Burgess had informed the Council in a meeting on Wednesday. "We were happy to hear that," he said. He also said he believed "a fairly substantial number" had applied for exemptions.

Meanwhile the Opposition United Bermuda Party reiterated its concern about term limits, Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert stopped short of saying the UBP would change the law if reelected.

He said: "Fundamentally, it is about getting the balance right for our people. We will review the term limit policy as it is, with a view to striking the right balance between the needs of the international business sector and the needs and capabilities of our people. Right now the policy is a blanket policy. We believe the situation is controllable enough to be handled on a case-by-case basis."

He also said the policy is not in Bermuda's best interest. "It creates unnecessary uncertainty in the international business sector - which we must remember is the engine of our economy."