It is sometimes easy to criticise the States of Guernsey for various policies they have put in place – and sometimes that criticism is rightly placed, but over the last few years the one area that has received more criticism than anything else has been the much maligned Population Management Law. So how fair is that criticism and is the law still really needed?
At this point it is probably worth remembering what was in place before in the Housing Licence system. As someone who moved to Guernsey under the old regime being told that I may have to leave after 5 years, but without any certainty as to whether I could stay beyond that point it was a daunting decision. For all of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Population Management Law, the one thing that it has brought businesses is a far greater degree of certainty with the introduction of the concept of an approved list of "in-policy" roles is that if the job you are applying for is on that list you will get a permit.
As was widely reported in the months' after the introduction of the new law, there were significant delays in processing applications, which sometimes extended into months' which caused real problems for many businesses going through recruitment. However those delays were principally down to the introduction of the new online Population Management Portal through which applications were made. In fairness to the States, as anyone who has ever implemented a new IT system will attest, it is almost impossible to do so without some teething problems. These issues have now largely been resolved with Population Management aiming to work towards new service standards.
So if the Law brings certainty and the new portal allows decisions to be made quickly why has it proved so controversial? In essence this boils down to the fact that with such low unemployment, almost all businesses are dependent to some extent on recruitment from overseas, and placing further barriers such as the requirement to leave after 5 years makes that difficult job even harder. In the world of recruitment which is increasingly a global market, and that is true whether you are running a financial services business or a restaurant, should we be placing any restrictions on who can come and work in Guernsey – or to put it another way is the Law the solution to yesterday's problem?
These are without doubt political questions which need analysis and the reality is that the Law is unlikely to change substantially in the near future. However, what can be changed and can be done quickly is our approach to the list of "in-policy" roles which attract employment permits. Whilst this may be a controversial thing for a lawyer to say, but Guernsey probably already has enough lawyers and accountants, and where the shortages in recruitment have been the most acute has been around areas such as hospitality and other similar areas. If this is the case then why not completely open up this area to long-term employment permits for a few years and see what happens? Once the shortages have been addressed then it would be an equally straightforward process to revert the current policy.
The reality is with the current uncertainties around how recruitment is going to look in a post-Brexit world, Guernsey needs to try and stay one step ahead in the market and if we can offer certainty to some of the best candidates who might otherwise have gone to the UK, why not do that?
First published by Connect, December 2019
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