STATEMENT BY THE PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
AT THE EIGHTH SITTING OF THE FOURTH SESSION
OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
HELD ON TUESDAY, 15TH NOVEMBER, 2022
Update on Requirements for Foreign Based Charter Vessels
Madam Speaker, over the weekend, I made an announcement pertaining to the change in some of the requirements for foreign based charter vessels.
I announced that in an effort to provide a more efficient and streamlined experience for our incoming guests, we have made the decision to remove the requirement for BVI trade licences from foreign based water taxis and commercial recreational vessels conducting day or term charters, as well as the requirement for work permits for the crew working on these vessels. It is important to note that this requirement was only put in place last year. It is also important to note that the decision to remove the requirement for Business Trade licences is an interim measure while we work on broader ranging reforms in the marine industry.
We are also happy to facilitate easier access for our USVI neighbours with whom we enjoy a strong relationship; and they in return have agreed in principle to reciprocal applications for BVI boats trading into the USVI. This is an important step considering potential recent escalation of requirements that could have crippled traffic on both sides. We all know that we rely heavily on access to the USVI waters, and let there be no doubt, the USVI Government was prepared to implement retaliatory measures if not for quick intervention on our part. In addition to the practical aspects of inter-Virgin Islands travel, we believe it is the right thing to maintain good relations with our USVI neighbors.
I wish to underscore, Madam Speaker, that with the ease in requirements stated, foreign based water taxi operators are still restricted to passenger drop off at the ports of entry and persons operating foreign charter companies are still required to obtain commercial recreation vessel licences from His Majesty’s (HM) Custom’s.
We have to still continue to do business within a legal framework.
The other requirements such as the certificate of registration, safety commercial vessel certificate and insurance for the vessel as well as the captain’s licence, valid STCW and other certificates and a valid passport for all crew and guests remain in effect.
The applicable fees based on the level of charter engagement will also still apply. HM Custom’s will update and publish Guidelines for Foreign Charter Companies to ensure that everyone remains knowledgeable about the revised requirements.
Madam Speaker, I now wish to provide an update as well as highlight some of the additional measures that are being worked on to streamline services in the tourism sector.
“Tourism is Everyone’s Business”. This was a campaign that the BVI Tourist Board championed years ago and a message that is still relevant today. Tourism, as we are all aware, is the second economic pillar of this economy.
It contributes to economic development and offers various employment opportunities across the Territory, so we must continue to do all within our power to ensure its sustainability as it continues to grow our economy.
We are grateful to those who have chosen to have their base of operations in the BVI. I met many of them at the Charter Yacht Society’s Vendor expo just last week. It was amazing to see all the ancillary businesses which benefit from the presence of this locally based industry. We recognise their important continuous contribution to the BVI economy and we do not in any way underestimate the value of this sector. While we recognize that there is a balance to be maintained and that balance must offer advantages for BVI based products and services within the BVI tourism space because of their commitment to the Territory and product.
Last season was however difficult for all parties involved, and some subsectors of the tourism economy were severely impacted by the resulting reduced maritime traffic. We also faced challenges attracting Megayachts because of the onerous requirements which were being imposed on. Islands such as Jost Van Dyke depend heavily on the maritime traffic as well, and they will see the benefit of easier access. While it will take time to fully develop and implement the proposed solution, there is an immediate need to make some adjustments to ensure that this tourism season affords all subsectors the opportunities to pursue a return on their investments through adjusted provisions for increased maritime traffic. Without improved traffic numbers, those opportunities are reduced.
Madam Speaker, during the past year, various representations have been made about improving some of the services provided to the marine sector of our tourism economy. We recognize the urgent need to create greater levels of efficiency for some of the onerous existing processes. This includes not having multiple licensing requirements for the same activity, creating a one stop shop, and rethinking legislation and policies for
We have held meetings with private stakeholders, public stakeholders, as well as joint meetings with public and private stakeholders to discuss some of the ongoing challenges. Various recommendations have been made and we are working towards bringing about much needed change.
Madam Speaker, there are various aspects of our tourism product and we recognise that all agencies must continue to work together to ensure that our visitors are afforded the best quality of service. This is one of the reasons why there are ongoing efforts with the relevant Government departments and statutory bodies such as the Immigration Department, HM Customs, Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Treasury Department, the BVI Tourist Board and the BVI Ports Authority to work towards more seamless procedures.
We know that the Territory of the Virgin Islands is known as the sailing capital of the world, Madam Speaker. Therefore, every effort must be made to preserve what we have worked for decades to build while ensuring greater levels of efficiency in the services we provide.
Madam Speaker, it is important to note that as a result of stakeholder discussions, we are now at an advanced stage with formulating new policies and seeking amendments to existing legislation that will recognise transient vessels, modify fees, and provide greater ease of access, while ensuring that the economic value of locally based charter operations is protected. Stakeholder consultation will continue.
The mechanisms will provide significant economic and operational advantages to vessels that are home based in the BVI and further advantages to vessels that are owned by BVI companies and registered in the BVI as well. The synergies of the BVI financial services, ship registration and tourism products when executed show possible overall benefits to the BVI economy. We continue to monitor these exciting developments with positive anticipation.
Two of the critical pieces of legislation that we have been reviewing are the Commercial Recreational Vessels Licensing Act, 1992 and the Cruising and Homeporting Act, 2021.
Having considered the challenges encountered last year and this year with the licencing period, and having happily taken note that our slow season is becoming shorter every year, the time is now ripe for a change to ensure that there is a correlation between the licencing period for HM Customs and the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry and to allow renewals based on anniversary dates. This will prevent all licences from expiring on October 30 and avoid unnecessary delays and further frustration that accompanies the high volume of licence processing required every November.
Madam Speaker, on a related matter, Members may recall that in December 2019, Government signed a contract with Canadian Bank Note Company, the largest border control solution provider in the region, for the implementation of a modern border management system in the Territory. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the timeframe within which this system would have been fully implemented, but work continues to be ongoing to ensure all phases of the system are launched and maximum benefit from the Government’s investment is received.
To date, three phases of this system have been implemented. Withthe border management system, the immigration process is now electronic. The eVisa has also been partially implemented. A few months ago, we launched the Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks to aid in expediting entry for returning Virgin Islands citizens holding British Virgin Islands or United Kingdom passports to the Territory.
In the coming months, we will be rolling out additional phases of the system. A Small Vessel/Aircraft Clearance Portal that will provide for advance passenger information to be submitted to facilitate pre-checks by the Immigration Department ahead of arrival will be tested over the coming month with an expected launch date of the first quarter of 2023.
In early December, Madam Speaker, I am scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with CARICOM for the Government of the Virgin Islands by way of the Immigration Department to receive Advanced Passenger Information, which among other security measures, will allow for risk-based, data driven immigration processing, allowing pre-assessments of passengers to take place which facilitates faster and smoother processing for low-risk passengers upon arrival. This will improve the overall passenger experience by reducing congestion and delays at the ports of entry.
Additionally, we are working toward introducing electronic entry/departure cards during the first quarter of next year to relieve residents and visitors of the burden of having to complete these forms manually. The electronic completion of these cards, at the traveler’s convenience, will facilitate easier clearance at the ports of entry. Over the next few months, all of the necessary policy/legislative changes will be undertaken to facilitate these improvements to our entry requirements.
We recognise that there is much more work to be done. That is why the Government is continuing to make processes more effective and streamlined while ensuring that the quality of life of the people of the Virgin Islands remains a top priority as the Territory moves towards becoming a more modern economy.
Thank you Madam Speaker.