Abrupt labor changes could impact economy
An international rating agency is monitoring The Bahamas' immigration policy and noted that dramatic swings could disrupt the labor market and impact foreign investment.
In its most recent analysis, Moody's estimated, based on domestic reports, that the number of employees in the country of foreign origin stands at 12 percent. Acknowledging that this represents a fairly "significant share", the rating agency said the majority of these workers tend to be employed in the hospitality industry.
However, while the government should make efforts to educate and "Bahamianize" the workforce, it should tread carefully or it could risk hurting the economy.
"Abrupt changes to immigration policy that affect the ability of employers to hire foreign workers could disrupt the labor market and adversely impact foreign investment in the medium term," said Edward Al-Hussainy, assistant vice president and analyst at Moody's.
However, the analyst wished to emphasize that The Bahamas has not yet reached this point. "Right now, immigration issues are not a significant driver of the credit rating," he added.
Nevertheless, the statement by Moody's indicates that the world is watching how The Bahamas decides to deal with its foreign workers.
The issue flew beyond these borders last week when an incident at Atlantis involving a sea lion trainer received international attention. During an interaction with guests, immigration officers demanded the worker, who had served at Atlantis for five years, produce her passport and work permit. She was then led off property and subsequently released.
Fred Mitchell, the minister of foreign affairs, has since defended immigration officers in the incident, while leaders in the business community have condemned the actions and even called for their dismissal.
Guardian Business has learned that the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) collectively met yesterday to discuss these growing concerns.
The powerhouse meeting suggests the private sector is uniting to have their voices heard. Guardian Business understands that another meeting with Mitchell is planned in the coming days.
The private sector has acknowledged the need for a stronger Bahamian workforce. However, stakeholders have unanimously insisted that more education is needed and a skills shortage limits employers in the country.
The private sector is also concerned about the inherent dependence on foreign-direct investment and how the government's aggressive tone could impact future dealings.
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Apr 30, 2013