The government of the Bahamas has approved the introduction of a new work visa, dubbed the BH1B, to grant specific privileges to individuals seeking to set up technology companies in The Bahamas.
“It’s a major catalyst for growth in various sectors, but our main focus was how can we create a tech hub on the island of Grand Bahama,” according to Ian Rolle, president of The Grand Bahama Port Authority Group.
“Myself and some others in the tech space were apart of a tech committee that presented a proposal to the government in regards to the introduction of this visa, because we knew that a number of companies, such as Infosys and Cognizant, are having trouble getting their teams into North America,” Rolle told Nearshore Americas on the sidelines of this month’s Nexus 2019 event in New York.
He espoused the benefit for companies to expand their operations into the country.
“Why not come to the island of Grand Bahama in The Bahamas, where there is no income tax, no property tax, no capital gains tax, and no tax on dividend repatriation? Why wouldn’t you want to come and live, work and play in paradise?”
“The BH1B visa is part of new legislation called the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2019, and is directly connected to the Commercial Enterprise Bill, which has attracted two companies to establish operations in Grand Bahama,” Rolle said.
Grand Bahama is the northernmost island of The Bahamas.
“This new visa takes things to the next level,” he said. “It will be a major driver of business.”
The new legislation also covers call centers and maritime services, more than just tech, and it applies to The Bahamas as a whole, he said.
“But the government aims to make Grand Bahama specifically the country’s technology hub.”
“I think if we can just get one big company, we can meet our goal, which is to grow the tech population by 8,000 people over the next two years. One company could easily fill that,” he said.
He also said that there is no quota on BH1B visas, as yet, so it is what he called “The opportune time to invest.”
Rolle also highlighted the country’s advantages and attraction as a tech hub as its high level of literacy in the English language, and the lifestyle.
“Who wouldn’t want to come and work in The Bahamas?” Rolle asked. “It’s a no-brainer.”
In March, Bahamian tech firm PO8 announced it would fund an internship program for software developers to become masters in blockchain, while the Caribbean Blockchain Alliance (CBA) is running a blockchain internship program over three months to find five successful coders who will intern with PO8.
According to the country’s financial services, trade, industry and immigration minister, Brent Symonette, the BH1B will attract industries not currently in the country.
With the new visa, in one year, The Bahamas stands to make US$325 million through housing and transport investments, in addition to US$24.4 million in value-added tax, he said.
“Let’s say we attract 250 companies of 500 people, that would result in US$10 million in immigration fees for the predominant work permit holders, and some US$2.5 million for the spouse or the child,” Symontte said during the debate on the implementation of the visa in the country’s House of Assembly in Nassau.
“It would mean some US$430 million in salaries in The Bahamas, and US$16.5 million in national insurance payments.”
The bill also includes the creation of a trusted traveler program for professionals, who Symonette claimed sometimes suffer complications with immigration officers because they do not have short-term work permits.