TUESDAY, MAR. 30: This week we have concluded what I am sure some would term as one of the longest, probably most exhausting Budget Debates in recent years.

In both Houses of the Legislature significant ground was covered, putting into proper perspective the logic and thinking behind the 2010/2011 National Budget.

With that work now behind us, the business of Government continues and as such I have asked you here this afternoon to announce three new initiatives in the Department of Immigration within my Ministry.

The first is implementation, effective April 1, 2010 of the Work Permit Holders' Competency with the English Language Policy. You will recall that I revealed a need for such a policy more than a year ago to address deficiencies in the work place. At that time following Cabinet approval we began a consultative process with relevant stakeholders. That process has now concluded with no objection from those groups.

The issue of guest workers in the various sectors of the workforce who have difficulty understanding Basic English has for many years often been a vexing topic amongst locals and residents alike.

While it is appreciated that employers in a number of industries are finding it more and more difficult to recruit from English-speaking countries, it is unacceptable to have foreigners serving persons, whether it is in a restaurant, a hotel or a rest home, who cannot communicate effectively in English. Further, a lack of competence in English is dangerous in a job where one has to also read prescriptions (caregiver) or the labels of dangerous chemicals (cleaner).

The onus will be on each employer to make their own internal arrangements for determining whether the person complies with the work permit condition with respect to English competency.

The Department of Immigration will provide an overseeing role of the policy and will only respond to concerns raised with the department regarding work permit holders' inability to demonstrate that they can speak English.

When such a complaint is received the individual will be brought into the Department of Immigration and given an English language test.

If the person cannot understand and speak English, then the employer will be advised that the work permit is being rescinded and the person will be returned to their place of origin.

I must stress that it is not our expectation that foreign workers be able to speak perfect, flawless English after passing the test, however, we do expect them to be able to understand and be understood by most residents who visit their establishment.

The enactment of this policy means that Bermuda will join other English speaking jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Canada.

I include for your information guidelines to employers also found on the Immigration website.

Secondly, effective May 1, 2010 I wish to announce a new visa requirement for Panamanian, Dominican Republic and Philippine nationals.

For some time now concern has been expressed about the ill treatment and the potential for abuse and victimization involving nationals from these three countries. When persons want to escape economic hardship, whether it be pursued through a sham marriage or by having a child for a Bermudian, problems do occur.

The Department of Immigration has received complaints and investigated cases where women have been brought to Bermuda specifically from the Dominican Republic for the purposes of prostitution. There have also been a number of cases where marriages with persons from Panama, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic involved significantly older Bermudian men married to women in their early twenties.

Moreover, when the Bermudian men arrive at the L. F. Wade International Airport to collect their spouses, often they cannot communicate with them as they do not speak each others' respective language.

Requiring nationals from Panama, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic to become visa-controlled would permit the Department of Immigration to vet applications to determine whether a marriage is a sham or a bona-fide union.

In the case of work permits, the additional vetting by the British Missions on behalf of the Department of Immigration in Bermuda provides another level of verification with respect to the validity of the information that has been given by way of the employer.

The British Missions as well as United States of America and Canadian Missions are not required to share with Bermuda their reasons for refusing a visa to an individual. However, once nationals from these countries become visa controlled, the British Missions will indicate to the Department of Immigration in Bermuda if a national is ineligible for a visa to the United Kingdom. They will also share with Bermuda when a person's information details on a work permit are not corroborated by the information submitted for the visa application.

For example, the Department of Immigration has found cases where a person claims to be a Chef when, in fact, they are a farm labourer. In such cases, even though the work permit may have been approved, the visa application is refused and thus the work permit can be revoked.

And finally, I wish to announce that effective immediately in line with international best practice all Canadian nationals arriving in Bermuda by air will require a Passport.

Prior to January 2007, American and Canadian nationals traveling to Bermuda were permitted to enter Bermuda by presenting a long-form birth certificate together with valid photo identification as proof of their citizenship in lieu of a valid passport.

In January 2007, the United States of America changed their laws requiring American citizens to have a valid passport for travel by air outside of the United States of America. As a result, Canadians were the only country permitted to continue with the practice of entering Bermuda without a passport.

The Department of Immigration has not required Canadians to enter with passports until it had legitimate data to show that the impact on Tourism would be minimal. Thanks to our new Border Management System (BMS), we are able to identify the number of Canadians travelling on a birth certificate as opposed to a passport. Based on air arrival data over the past year (from January 2009 to January 2010), approximately 99.6% of all Canadian nationals traveling to Bermuda by air have presented a valid passport upon entry. Of the estimated 0.4% of Canadian nationals traveling to Bermuda on a long-form birth certificate, the majority are minor children two years of age and less.

Therefore, the impact on existing Canadian nationals travelling to Bermuda is estimated to be minimal.

Since persons travelling to Bermuda from all other countries are presently required to present a valid passport, changing Bermuda's practice to require Canadian nationals to do the same would standardize the travel document requirements for all air travelers to Bermuda.

We believe that these changes to Immigration policy will strengthen the remit we have under the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956.

Thank you.

Work Permit Holders' Competency with the English Language


While it is appreciated that employers in a number of industries are finding it more and more difficult to recruit from English-speaking countries, it is unacceptable to have foreigners serving persons, whether it is in a restaurant, a hotel or a rest home, who cannot communicate effectively in English. It is dangerous in a job where one has to also read prescriptions or the labels of dangerous chemicals. Consequently the following policy is being put into effect.

The job categories that are being targeted by the new policy are those in industries where the job holder interacts with the public or in jobs where lives could be threatened if the person cannot speak or read English, namely:

(a) Restaurant workers: pot washer; cook; waiter

(b) Hotel workers: cleaner/houseman

(c) Health professionals: physician; nurse; nursing aide; physiotherapist; occupational therapist; radiological technician; social worker

(d) Caregivers in nursing jobs: nursemaid/nanny

For workers in the above categories from countries where English is not the first language, a condition is placed on the work permit stating:

"APPROVED SUBJECT TO HOLDER POSSESSING A WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE"

The employer is required to determine that the person who enters Bermuda with the stated condition on the work permit has a working knowledge of the English language. Each employer will make his own internal arrangements for determining whether the person complies with the work permit condition with respect to English.

The policy cannot be policed by the Department of Immigration proactively without incurring great expense in time, money and manpower. The department will therefore only react to complaints from members of the general public that individual work permit holders cannot speak English. When such a complaint is received the individual will be brought into the Department of Immigration and given an English language test. If the person cannot understand and speak English, then the employer will be told that the work permit is rescinded and the person will be returned to his place of origin at the employers' expense including any charges for escorts.