One of the general consensuses emerging from the Department of Labor issues stakeholder meeting is that the move to an online application platform last year has resulted in a significant backlog in work permit processing. .
Acting Labor Commissioner Michelle McLean said the backlog emerged around July 2021 when the department closed for a few days due to COVID-19. She said the system was launched soon after, but the ministry encountered technical difficulties with the new system, which created an additional backlog.
“We work on a system when you upload the information, sometimes it disappears. We work on a system where we have to physically print every paper you submit to the department. It takes time,” McLean explained.
Labor Secretary Vincent Wheatley said that while returning to the manual would solve the current problem, he was “reluctantly” prepared to do so.
“If it helps anyway, take a day or two on the process, then I’m willing to do it for a period of time. But I don’t think the manual is the way to go as we modernize and let’s move into an electronic age. But if it’s going to help right now, I’ll begrudgingly say, ‘let it be,'” Wheatley said.
He added that the online system was designed and implemented to address the current issues facing the department.
“Once the online system doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, these problems will persist. Someone suggested earlier that maybe we should remove it altogether and remove it until the system is fully configured and running properly. I say that I am prepared to take this suggestion very seriously. If that’s causing the main problem of backlog and choking etc, then let’s do it,” Wheatley continued.
The goal is to make physical visits obsolete
The Minister said his department’s aim was to bring everything online seamlessly to the point where people from the Sister Islands do not have to physically travel to labor offices to process work permits.
“Our ambition was to move this thing entirely online where you could be in Anegada or Jost Van Dyke and apply for your permit and have it issued online and pay for it. I would like this to happen as soon as possible. I’m not a technical person but six months max, I would like this properly rectified, back online with online payments and smooth movement between Labor and Immigration. That’s what I’d like to see happen,” Wheatley added.
Late last year, the Minister of Labor told the Standing Committee on Finance that the proposed online portal was to help free up manpower for the Department of Labor to make meaningful change. He said once people have the ability to pay online, it should free up some capacity where the department can redeploy its focus on workforce development rather than work permit processing. .
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