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 (the “Act”) clearly states that it is an offense 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 authorizes 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.

Procedure for obtaining a work permit

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 Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15,000.00). These documents include:

  1. 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 amongst other things;
  2. Original police record issued by Applicant’s country of residence;
  3. Resume/CV outlining the Applicant’s professional experience;
  4. Certified copies of degrees/diplomas;
  5. Two certified passport size photographs of the Applicant;
  6. Two certified copies of the bio-data page of Applicant’s passport; and
  7. 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. Upon the 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.

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 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 Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00) or to imprisonment with or without hard labour of up to six months or to both a fine and imprisonment.

In recent times, the authorities appear to be taking a pro-active 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.

Expiration of work permits

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.