Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Paulette Neil | Obtain a work permit or face the consequences

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2018 | 12:04 AM
Paulette Neil

We often see foreign nationals being employed in Jamaica, particularly in areas such as hotels, restaurants, construction, wholesale and retail stores.

The Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act of Jamaica clearly states that it is an offence for an employer to have within his or her employment in Jamaica a foreign national or Commonwealth citizen - other than a Caricom national falling within specified categories - and the foreign national does not hold a valid work permit in relation to that employment.

Work permits are the permission to take a job within a foreign country, and are required in virtually all countries worldwide, though the process for granting work permits differs from country to country. In Jamaica, a work permit is issued by the Minister of Labour & Social Security and authorises an individual to work in Jamaica under certain conditions for a specified period of time. Successful applicants are issued a work permit ID card by the ministry.




The application to the Ministry of Labour & Social Security for a work permit requires the applicant to submit several documents, in addition to paying the non-refundable application fee of $15,000.

These documents include the completed application form setting out the reasons for the work permit application, efforts made by the employer to recruit a Jamaican national and the expected duration of employment, among other things.

They must also provide an original police record issued by the applicant's country of residence; rÈsumÈ or curriculum vitae outlining the applicant's professional experience; certified copies of degrees or diplomas; two certified passport photographs of the applicant; two certified copies of the biodata page of the applicant's passport; and proof of business registration.

Where the documents are not in English, a certified English translation of the relevant documents is to be submitted.

If the minister approves the application, the prescribed fee for the work permit is due. This work permit fee is separate from the non-refundable application fee. On payment of the prescribed fees, the work permit is then issued.

It is in the absolute discretion of the minister to grant the work permit, either conditionally or without conditions, or to refuse the application. It is important to note that the application for the work permit is to be done prior to the applicant's entry into the country, as the applicant is required to submit the work permit documentation to immigration officials upon entry into Jamaica.




As to the consequences for employing a foreign national in Jamaica without a valid work permit, penalties are imposed on both Jamaican employers and foreign nationals who fail to comply with the provisions of the Foreign Nationals Act.

Any employer who allows a foreign national that does not have a work permit to work in his business, along with the foreign national who works without a valid work permit are both liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding $500,000 and/or imprisonment with or without hard labour of up to six months.

In recent times, the authorities appear to be taking a proactive approach against offenders and are actively pursuing criminal sanctions against them. Businesses that hire foreign nationals without work permits are therefore putting their reputation at stake, as well as facing the possibility of hefty fines and the imprisonment of their employees.

There are instances where foreign nationals have been working in Jamaica under a valid work permit and after its expiration, continue to work in Jamaica without renewing their work permit. Foreign nationals falling in this category, and employers who continue to employ them, are operating in contravention of the act and are subject to the legal consequences.

It is, therefore, imperative for both the employers of foreign nationals and foreign nationals who are employed in Jamaica to note the expiration dates of their work permits and ensure that renewal applications are filed in a timely fashion.

- Paulette Neil is an attorney-at-law in the Montego Bay office of the law firm DunnCox.