Xenophobia aside? Senior Government official emphasises ‘Bermudians-first’ job policy

National Security Minister Wayne Caines, while warning against xenophobia, says local business owners should employ out-of-work Bermudians rather than overseas staff as the island bids to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Caines, during Friday’s (May 29) daily media briefing, contended that expatriate employees “may need to leave” if their permits were not renewed.

“We will need to review, reassess and re-evaluate our immigration policies and procedures in order to adapt to these unprecedented times. More specifically, we will now be closely scrutinising our work-permit policy, as there are a significant number of Bermudians who are unemployed,” Caines said, adding “we must now look at closing certain categories.”

Caines said that permission to live in Bermuda and look for work would be “assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

“In this current climate, work-permit approvals are not guaranteed. In instances where there are clearly opportunities for hiring Bermudians, work permits will be denied. And as a result in some of these cases, guest workers may need to leave the island if their work permit is not granted,” he argued.

“We will make every effort to balance the need for work-permit holders who provide specialised services to remain in those roles. However, in these cases, the local business must provide training, development and succession planning for Bermudians to take over in these roles,” Caines added.

The thinly veiled and conflicting comments came as Bermuda announced one new case of COVID-19, taking the island’s total to 140. Nine patients have died from coronavirus-related complications, while another nine are in hospital, including two in critical care.

Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson said pay-outs to more than 9,000 people — roughly a quarter of the island’s workforce — left unemployed by the pandemic have now topped US$32 million. The total included an estimated 2,000 expatriate workers.

Minister Dickinson noted the government was still considering a possible extension to the 12-week benefits programme.

According to him, some 2,600 people who had been on benefits had returned to work, up by more than 1,200 from the previous week as the island entered the second phase of a four-stage return to normality.

Public Works Minister David Burch said anyone who arrives on the island from Sunday will be allowed to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, instead of at a government-run quarantine centre where the charge has been US$100 a night.

Premier David Burt announced that an Air Canada charter flight from Toronto will land on June 5 to repatriate stranded Bermudians as well as offer the chance for Canadians on the island to return to their homeland.