PHILIPSBURG:--- In the Council of Ministers press briefing of Wednesday June 20th, the Minister of Public Health, Social Development & Labor, Emil Lee elaborated on the efforts of the Ministry in relation to the granting of work permits based on AB 2013 nr 73 article 7 lid 3. The Division Labor Affairs & Social Services has invoked AB 2013 nr 73 article 7 lid 3 of the National decree containing general measures on the employment of foreign labor. This allows the Ministry to approve an employment permit on a one-time basis for projects related to the reconstruction.
“Post-Irma, the need for construction workers has increased dramatically, to which the Ministry has responded with various skill building trainings, transition opportunities, employment drives and collaborative job fairs. These programs were realized to ensure that local workers and interested workers would be offered the opportunity to gain training and employment in the construction sector. These efforts have been now been exhausted and we have now moved to invoking AB 2013 nr 73 article 7 lid 3 in order to be able to facilitate, in a timely manner, the high demand for workers in construction.” – Emil Lee, Minister VSA
There are now two new scenarios as it relates to work permit requests submitted to the Division Labor Affairs & Social Services. 1) Post-Irma project based expedited for reconstruction: request will be expedited through the application process by waiving the requirement of the vacancy advertisement placement, five week waiting period and the processing time being reduced to 2 weeks vs. 6 weeks. Applicants must meet registration requirements and submit a viable housing plan. These permits are non-transferrable, can only be renewed once, with a total duration of maximum three years. 2) Post-Irma Non-project based reconstruction related work permit requests would be expedited. Both the requirement of the vacancy advertisement placement and five week waiting period would be waived, these permits however can be renewed.
Pre-Irma, the work permit request would be more extensive, with longer waiting and processing times. Companies would have to go through the registering of the vacancy, placement of vacancy advertisement, five (5) week waiting period for processing of local candidate applications, if unsuccessful, hereafter a work permit request may be submitted for a foreign worker, the application processing time is up to 6 weeks. This complete process could take at least 3 months’ time.
There are several requirements to be met when requesting the expedited reconstruction work permit from the Division Labor Affairs & Social Services. One of these requirements being that companies applying for these work permits must present a housing plan for their workers. Lee stated, “This process should not create a displacement of people or an increase of rental prices which will have a negative impact for local tenants and home seekers.” Some of the conditions for these permits are that the applicable taxes and social premiums of the workers are paid and the company must be in good standing with the Tax Administration office. Companies and permit holders are reminded that the permits are non-transferrable, can only be renewed once, and has a duration of maximum three years.
“In other words, you cannot come in on a permit for company A and use that permit to work for company B after. With these conditions we want to ensure that compliance is in place and also that after the reconstruction phase that these workers do not become competition for our local workers by remaining on the island. A collaboration with the Ministry of Justice will be enforced to ensure that persons do not ‘outlive’ their stay, based on the end date of their permit.” – Emil Lee, Minister VSA
The most common inquiry from construction sector on the process for the expedited reconstruction work permit has been, if they have a series of smaller construction projects within a projected timeframe, would this be considered a project vs. one dedicated construction assignment for a hotel for example. As a reaction to this, the Ministry is currently in the process of redefining the definition of the ‘project’ and clearly identifying the scope of this in order to facilitate efficient processing of requests. An advice on this will be submitted to the Council of Ministers next week for approval.
“There is a responsibility to ensure that the reconstruction process can move forward as quickly as possible. We will continue to offer trainings and stimulate employers to be flexible and offer those able to work in the construction sector. However, the demand for skilled workers is high and based on the numbers, these cannot be met with local workers alone. We believe that this expedited service will be good for the speedy recovery of our economy. In the meantime, we will continue to facilitate in the employment of our local workers and offer trainings and skill building programs for those that have an interest. Next week Thursday and Friday there will be a registration drive for technical and vocational courses in collaboration with NIPA and MIC-IT.” – Emil Lee, Minister VSA