Jamaica is regarded as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures and people, with people travelling to Jamaica for various reasons, including to do business and take up employment. With the development of new industries, many persons with various skills and expertise are seeking to enter Jamaica. Whether you are a foreign national seeking to work in Jamaica, or an employer seeking to employ a foreign national in Jamaica, it is important to ensure that any foreign national working in Jamaica obtains a work permit, if so required.
Who needs a work permit?
A work permit is a document issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (the ‘Ministry’) which
authorizes a foreign national to work in Jamaica according to its stipulations for a specified period of time. Under the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act, a ‘foreign national’ is a person who is not a Jamaican citizen, Commonwealth citizen or a CARICOM national. Foreign nationals and Commonwealth citizens (other than certain exempt CARICOM nationals) must obtain a work permit to be employed in Jamaica.
It is an offence for a person who requires, but does not have, a valid a work permit, to engage in any occupation or be employed in Jamaica. It is also an offence to employ a person who requires, but does not have, a valid a work permit. Offenders may be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding J$500,000.00 and/ or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.
The work permit process
The applicant must submit an application form completed by both the applicant and the prospective employer and provide supporting documents to the Ministry. The supporting documents include a letter from the prospective employer outlining the skills to be provided by the applicant and justifying the need for the applicant to provide those skills, proof of the applicant’s qualifications and a police report from the applicant’s current place of residence.
Processing the application generally takes between 6 to 10 weeks from the date all required information is submitted. It is important to prepare and submit the application in advance of the proposed date of commencing work in Jamaica, taking into account the time it may take an applicant and prospective employer to collect the supporting information and the processing time.
The work permit application fee is currently a nonrefundable fee of J$17,250.00. The work permit may be sought for a period up to 3 years. If the application is successful, the Ministry will issue a letter indicating the period for which the work permit is granted. The applicable fees for the work permit will vary between J$48,875.00 and J$585,000.00 having regard to time period for which the permit is granted.
Once the work permit letter is granted, the applicant may use the work permit letter to enter Jamaica, but must obtain an extension of stay at the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency to allow him/ her to extend his/ her time in Jamaica beyond the time initially given on entry, and to have the work permit endorsed in his/ her passport.
After the endorsement process is completed, the applicant must obtain a work permit identification card from the Ministry. It is important to note the expiration date of the permit and to apply for renewal in a timely manner or cease employment in Jamaica and depart prior to that date.
Work Permit Exemptions
Certain categories of foreign nationals may be exempt from the work permit requirement. Some persons, such as a person who is married to a Jamaican citizen or a person employed in any Ministry or Department of the Government of Jamaica, do not need to obtain a work permit, but must obtain a work permit exemption certificate in order to be employed in Jamaica. An application for a work permit exemption certificate must also be submitted to the Ministry. Applications must include an application form and similar supporting documents to a work permit application.
A person is not, however, required to obtain a work permit or a work permit exemption certificate if he/ she visits Jamaica to conduct business for certain purposes and for a period not exceeding 30 days on each trip and 6 months in total for that calendar year. These purposes include:
- To inspect plant, machinery or equipment of any factory or other industrial works or to give technical advice on the operation of any undertaking, business or enterprise of whatever kind that is based in Jamaica;
- Directors, inspectors or auditors of any entity that operates in Jamaica or controls any entity that operates in Jamaica; and
- To visit Jamaica on behalf of a principal who is not in Jamaica, in connection with the appointment of, or for the purpose of having business consultations with, a business agent or distributor that is based in Jamaica.
Businesses who hire or consult foreign nationals and foreign nationals who travel to Jamaica must, therefore, determine whether such person requires a work permit or a work permit exemption certificate and if so, obtain permission prior to their employment in Jamaica. The work permit requirements seek to balance the need for qualified Jamaicans to be given first consideration in employment opportunities and for persons with specialized skills and expertise to be brought in to meet any shortage of supply in those fields and provide training to the Jamaican labour force. It is important to note that work permits are granted at the discretion of the Ministry, so it is helpful to seek assistance from qualified persons to increase your chances of success.
Alyssa Chin is an Associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon, and is a member of the firm’s Commercial Department. Alyssa may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.