Is the PLP preferencing politics over policy for work permits?

In the wake of the Reverend Nicholas Genevieve-Tweed debacle the PLP has claimed that their position on work permits for key personnel “has certainly evolved over the past ten years”. The PLP have stated that they would have allowed a waiver and granted the work permit renewal. This stance honestly seems more like a political move than good policy. It is a nice political soundbite but it isn’t clear how it puts Bermudians first. The whole point of key employee waivers is to create opportunities for Bermudians. How does granting waivers for pastors do that?

“The PLP position has certainly evolved over the past 10 years and one dual aim is to give companies and other organisations, including churches, the ability to hire the key people they need while maximising opportunities for Bermudians.

“The key is balance. The case involving Reverend Tweed shows that when it comes to churches, the OBA has not engaged in the level of consultation with this sector to the extent it did with international business.

Ok, they state that their aim is to maximize opportunities for Bermudians.  That is wholly applauded and agreed with. However, in Bernews the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Walton Brown suggested the AME church should have been allowed a waiver for Reverend Genevieve-Tweed. Why?  Doing so would set a precedent that churches should be allowed waivers for pastors as key employees when a waiver is already available for Bishops.

“Current immigration policy allows for a waiver of advertising of jobs under specific conditions. Based on what has been in the public domain about the AME Church appointment protocols, it seems more than reasonable to allow such a waiver and grant the church the work permit renewal they are seeking.

The core reason to support work permit waivers for key employees is to encourage opportunities for Bermudians. If a company is told it can’t have employees who are essential to the business then that company will go somewhere else. The only reason to allow companies these sorts of exemptions is to encourage businesses to base themselves in Bermuda and thereby encourage Bermudian job creation and opportunities. What opportunity is created for Bermudians by allowing a church to preference foreign pastors over qualified Bermudian pastors?

The whole point of the work permit policy is to encourage training of Bermudians and continue ensuring qualified Bermudians are provided opportunity.  Even then it isn’t clear that it is very effective. So to go a step further and advocate voiding the policy even further by granting waivers for pastors doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why even bother having a work permit policy at all if, like the term limit policy, you’re just going to give everyone waivers.

This is why the PLP’s statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from the perspective of putting Bermudians first. It seems politically expedient to capitalize on the idea that granting waivers to encourage business growth and opportunities for Bermudians is anti-Bermudian and act like there isn’t a level playing field when churches aren’t given the same opportunity.

“The next step — what the next PLP government will do — would be to consult and work with the faith community to address the concerns they have regarding the work permit process and the need for prioritising Bermudians and then have these matters addressed in a revised policy.

Right now the policy is that only Bishops are considered key.  For any other positions all churches must advertise and confirm that there are no qualified Bermudian applicants. The PLP effectively contends that pastors should also be exempt but in the same breath states they’d prioritize Bermudians. It doesn’t make any sense. We require that qualified Bermudian teachers are hired before foreign ones. What is so special about a pastor that makes it more important to have a foreigner fill the role in the case of faith but in the case of our children’s future it is not? Why is a foreign pastor more capable than an equally qualified Bermudian one?

The PLP states they “would have done things differently” and “consulted”.  Aside from simply granting waivers to preference foreigners in the case of faith, what else would they have done?  Where is the advantage for Bermudians in suggesting that they would allow churches to appoint whomever they want without advertising? It makes sense as a political move to back the churches because some Bermudians place the church at a higher standing than our collective future. From a policy perspective however it would set a questionable precedent and further invalidate the work permit policy while undermining the PLP’s stated goal of putting Bermudians first.