Immigration, Residency & Employment
The government's immigration policy is aimed at ensuring the reasonable security, well-being and economic progress of The Bahamas and its people.
The government gives consideration to citizenship, permanent residency and work permits for non-Bahamians provided there is compliance with the immigration laws of The Bahamas and policies of the government. Accelerated consideration is given to applications for annual or permanent residence by major international investors and to "fit and proper owners of residences valued in excess of $500,000.
As The Bahamas is a major tourist destination, every effort is made to keep visitors' immigration formalities to a minimum. Non-Commonwealth citizens should inquire at the Ministry of Tourism for entry requirements, as they vary from country to country.
Visitors must have a return ticket to their homeland or to some other country where they would be accepted.
Visitors may visit The Bahamas for up to eight months, provided they can indicate means of financial support for this period. Visitors are not allowed to engage in any form of gainful occupation while in The Bahamas.
Passports are required by all persons except citizens of the UK and colonies, and Canadian citizens on visits not exceeding three weeks. However, passports are required for re-entry into the UK. British visitors' passports are accepted.
New Passport Requirements for US Citizens:
All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travellers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements. Excerpt From travel.state.gov (the Department of State Travel Website)
Visas are required by all persons entering The Bahamas except:
- British Commonwealth citizens and landed immigrants of Canada, for visits not exceeding 30 days if in possession of Form 100.
- US citizens entering as visitors for a stay not exceeding eight months.
- Alien residents of the US who, upon arrival, are in possession of their national passports and US alien registration cards and work or residence permits for visits not exceeding 30 days.
- Nationals of the following countries for visits not exceeding 14 days: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
- Nationals of the following countries for visits not exceeding three months: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Sweden.
- Nationals of the following countries: Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemborg, The Netherlands, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
- Persons in possession of a valid residence or work permit issued by the Director of Immigration.
- Persons in transit, including stateless persons in possession of a valid refugee or stateless person's travel document, provided they are in possession of valid passports and tickets to some destination outside The Bahamas and that their stay, while awaiting onward passage on the first available ship or aircraft, does not exceed three days. This exemption does not apply to nationals of Haiti and the Dominican Republic who must always possess visas even in direct transit by air.
Applications for visas from nationals of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Colombia, or of Asian countries such as China, including those residing in Hong Kong, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma) must be referred to the nearest Bahamian consular office.
Visas for persons in the following categories may be granted without prior reference:
- Nationals of countries not mentioned in the previous paragraph provided that the visit is intended for a period not exceeding three months.
- Stateless persons who must be in possession of a document permitting re-entry into their country of residence and whose visit is intended for a period not to exceed three months.
Annual Residence Permit
People who wish to reside in The Bahamas on an annual basis may qualify under one of the four categories, subject to formal application and approval process.
- Spouse or dependent of a citizen of the Bahamas:
If an applicant is married to a Bahamian citizen, a resident spouse permit may be issued, provided the marriage has existed for less than five years. The resident spouse permit is issued for up to five years. An application can be made for permanent residence or citizenship after five years or more of marriage.
- Spouse or dependent of a permit holder:
In addition to the usual application process, a copy of the sponsor's work permit, permit to reside, certificate of permanent residence or other lawful authority to reside in The Bahamas must be included.
- Independent economic resident:
As part of the application process, a financial reference is required from a reputable bank verifying economic worth, and two written character references are required. For an annual residence permit, a head-of-household pays $1,000 and each dependent, $25.
- Resident homeowner or seasonal resident homeowner:
Under this category, non-Bahamians who own second homes in the Bahamas may apply to the director of immigration for an annual homeowner's residence card. This card is renewable annually and entitles the owner, spouse and any minor child/children endorsed on the owner's card when travelling with the owner, to enter and remain in The Bahamas for the validity of the card. The fee is $500 per year and is intended to facilitate entry in The Bahamas with minimal formalities, entitling the holder to visit for a stay of up to one year.
Successful applicants in any of above categories are not permitted to engage in employment.
An inflexible principle of The Bahamas government is that no expatriate may be offered a position that a suitably qualified Bahamian is available to fill. Employers with vacant posts are required to advertise locally and consult the Bahamas Employment Exchange. If unsuccessful in fulfilling their requirements by these methods, they may apply to the Department of Immigration for permission to recruit outside The Bahamas, following a formal application process. Normally an application will not be processed if the prospective employee is already in the Bahamas having entered as a visitor.
Work permit fees range from $350 to $10,000 per year depending on the category. The Bahamas Immigration Bahamianization Policy, which is critical to the granting of work permits, provides that:
- A Bahamian who is qualified to fill a position should be given the position in preference to anyone else.
- The Bahamian must be given that job on the same terms and conditions as any expatriate counterpart.
- Where the company has a career structure, whether here or abroad, the Bahamian employee must be given the same opportunities for advancement as would be afforded other employees.
- The Bahamian employee must be helped whenever possible to broaden skills in a chosen field of endeavour by constant exposure to further training at home and abroad.
Where work permits have been granted, each employer will be required to identify a suitable Bahamian to understudy the expatriate's so that the Bahamian trainee will fill the expatriate's position within a reasonable time frame. Genuine investors usually have little difficultly in complying with these requirements.
Employers may obtain permits for longer periods than the standard one-year period in respect to certain key personnel on contract. Such contracts should indicate their renewal would be subject to obtaining the necessary immigration permission, and they may be endorsed to the effect that the employee is expected to train or be replaced by a suitable Bahamian within a stipulated period.
Each permit issued by the Immigration Board relates to a specific post. Permits are not altered by the Director of Immigration to reflect change of employment or residence. However, a person holding a work permit may make application for a new one (his new employer having been unsuccessful in recruiting a qualified Bahamian to fill the post) without having to leave the islands.
The renewal of a permit on expiration is not automatic. Generally, no expatriate may be continually employed in the country in any capacity for more than five years. However, there are likely to be cases of hardship will be caused by rigid implementation of this policy; according to government, this factor will be kept in mind in applying the regulations.
A bond is required for each person granted a work permit, if necessary, to repatriate the employee and his dependents and to pay public charges, including medical expenses, incurred by the employee.
Sales Representative Permit
Traveling sales representatives planning to do business in The Bahamas must obtain work permits from the Department of Immigration, and a licence from the Licensing Authority.
Applicants for this status of residency must be of good character and prepared to show evidence of financial support. Such an applicant must also state that he intends to reside permanently in The Bahamas.
Persons may apply for permanent residence in any of the following categories provided they satisfy statutory requirements of the Bahamas:
- As the spouse of a citizen of The Bahamas, and in the case of a male, he must have been married for not less than five years. Women married to Bahamians may apply at any time after marriage.
- As an economic applicant; that is, one who seeks to permanently reside in The Bahamas because of:
1. Investment business or home.
2. Established roots through family ties.
Persons who have held valid certificates of permanent residence prior to the Immigration Act, 1975, continue to hold such status automatically.
A business-sensitive legal framework and investor-friendly climate encourages non-Bahamian Investments, supported by the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), Ministry of Finance.
Although an investor is granted a licence by the Licencing Authority, a work permit must still be sought to be resident and an employee of/or operating business.
Business Licence Fee
The Business Licence Act, 1980, made it mandatory for anyone operating a business aimed at obtaining a turnover to apply for and obtain a licence.
Annual licence renewal applications and payments are due every Jan-Apr, and expire on Dec 31. Fees are based, for most business, on their annual gross receipts less the direct cost of producing the turnover. They range from zero for a petty business to 1.5% of turnover or $500,000 (whichever is greater) for a very large business with a high profit. Companies designated non- resident under the Exchange Control Regulations Act pay an annual fee of $300.
Companies licensed under the Banks and Trust Companies Regulations Act, 2000 (which imposes separate fees), do not pay for a business licence. Gas stations pay a fixed fee of 0.5% of turnover (a business with a turnover of $250,000 per year or more).
The Act's definition of "business" includes all types of manufacturing and commercial undertakings, and covers professions such as law, accounting and medicine. Where a business consists of separate and distinct undertakings, a separate licence must be obtained for each.
A non-Bahamian or a company not 100% Bahamian-owned must first obtain approval from National Economic Council and then wait for the licence application to be approved before commencing operations. Renewal of a non-Bahamian business licence is at the discretion of the Minister of Finance.
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