In what appears to be unannounced changes to immigration laws, new fees and penalties that appear to be unavoidable are causing former work permit holders to go underground.
The changes are not affecting the large resorts who bring hundreds of workers into the TCI and who are run through the work permit processing en masse and on an expedited basis. They are affecting the small employers who are struggling to keep their people legally employed.
The first change was an increase in the work permit fees. Next was the 6% health care income contribution, added to the 8% pension fund levy. The next change, effective last year, was forcing workers to use the NHIP to provide annual medical certifications at twice the previous cost. This change has delayed the issue of certifications by a minimum of one month. Further, the change requires workers on South and North Caicos to spend travel costs to access the test -- once to have blood drawn and later to pick up the results.
The NIB and NHIP collection office in North Caicos is now closed most working hours, making payments of fees and obtaining clearance also very difficult.
Now adding to the problem is the institution of a $250 penalty for each month permit holders fail to provide the documentation. Workers must take off day after day to access the system and, when the certifications are not made readily available by the government, it causes a dramatic rise in the cost of the permits because of the penalties.
None of these changes were debated in the House of Assembly but are now plaguing islanders who employ the workers and the workers themselves. A number of these workers are domestics who care for aged islanders or who perform low paid domestic and simple labour level work.
The increased costs are now causing some workers to drop out and go underground. Those that are being picked up from expired work permit holders are rare.
Meanwhile, massive increases in the cost of vehicle and small business licenses are now causing threats by the government and police to track down those not renewing the documents.
In a one-day police exercise in Providenciales, 100 persons were arrested for not renewing their vehicle and drivers licences. This appears to be the result of lack of employment while during the same period the cost of licence renewal stickers has risen from $35 to a high of $175 for most vehicles.
Ironically, the stickers, which are applied to vehicle windshields, have not been available for several months. The government has issued paper receipts to those renewing their vehicle licences.
The government has announced in the meantime that it will review all those not renewing their licences and track them down.
It now appears that illegal vendors are marketing souvenirs to cruise ship passengers in Grand Turk near the cruise port. They appear to be bypassing the vendors’ welcome centre, which has booths that rent for high rates, while at the same time small business licence costs have doubled.
The government has announced it is investigating these activities.
High government fees, lack of employment and an increased cost of living are forcing island drivers, workers and small entrepreneurs underground or to cease driving and/or close their business.