Saba Business Association meet with the Immigration and Naturalization Service IND about the long process for work permits and residency permits

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SABA — Following an invitation extended by the Immigration and Naturalization Service IND, the Saba Business Association (SBA) board represented by Chairperson Alida Heilbron and Vice Chair Gerard Geenty attended a meeting on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The main topic up for discussion was the long waiting time for the processing of work permits as well as residency permits.

With Saba being such a small market, hiring personnel abroad is practically inevitable. The SBA emphasized the fact that the tedious and long process of issuing permits hampers the micro business in their quest of moving forward. The borders have opened up and the hotels and dive shops are more than ready to get back in the full swing of things. Employees of especially dive centers and hotels have left during the pandemic as their future on Saba was not certain.

Businesses on the island are more than ready to move forward but in general feel that they are bogged down by IND requirements. The IND explained that work permits are approved right here on the island, however, residency permits (needed in order to stay on the island) are sent through to Bonaire where they end up in a “pile” that consists of applications from Bonaire, Statia and Saba all together. According to the SBA this is an unfair process as the applications from Bonaire might be ten-fold per day whereas the applications from Saba are a handful per week. The SBA suggested that the applications are divided by island and processed by an operative responsible for that particular island in order to speed up the process and not have businesses suffer the consequences of having to wait whilst 40 or 50 Bonaire applications are processed before a Saba application is looked at with delays of 4 months or more not uncommon.

Before the change of constitution, the process of work and residency permits was in the hands of the local government. Since 10.10.10, the process has become more tedious and, in view of the majority of business on Saba, unnecessarily lengthy. Commissioner Bruce Zagers has lobbied to take over the tasks locally or to move from a system of distrust to trust with the local government assuming responsibility for the necessary workers until the requirements of the IND are met. There has been no progress with either scenario.
In the meantime, the IND has already made an exception for 5 sectors on the island where it is not necessary to advertise locally for a position for the mandatory 5 weeks. Those sectors are education, dive centers, academic personnel, personnel earning $50 K or more per year and chefs. They asked the SBA to advise them if there are other sectors to be added to the list.

In addition, the IND is aware of the seemingly redundant process of renewals of work permits where all paperwork (business license, excerpt Chamber of Commerce, copies passports etc.) has to be submitted each year. The IND will see where this process can be simplified.

The final issue addressed is the fact that quite a few businesses are in arrears where tax payments are concerned, resulting from closed borders due to the pandemic. With an eye on opening the borders and having tourists come back to the island, it will hinder especially the tourist-facing sector from hiring new personnel to be able to serve returning tourists as the IND does not honor any requests unless the company is in good standing at the tax department. According to the SBA this flies right in the face of the tax department extensions given to businesses that were in financial difficulties. The IND has agreed to touch on this issue with the “forces that be”.

The SBA is expecting feed-back from the IND on all issues, in due time.