China looks to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in several respects. From an economic perspective, China has been the BVI's trading partner for many years. According to a report entitled "Creating Value: BVI's Global Contribution" by independent economics consultancy Capital Economics, as of December 2016, two-fifths of all BVI Business Companies were located in China and the rest of Asia. The figure is estimated to have increased further in the meantime, particularly given the wave of developments in China and the countries under China's Belt and Road Initiative.

In recognition of the significant numbers of BVI companies being used as structures for investments into or originating from mainland China, the BVI government recently enacted legislative measures which have made it easier for Chinese individuals to visit the BVI. In particular, the visa exemption order dated 5 July 2018 (Order) made under Section 37(4) of the Immigration and Passport Act allows a national of the People's Republic of China to enter and remain in the BVI for business or tourism purposes, subject to a maximum length of stay of six months and certain paperwork requirements.

Significantly, the effect of the Order, when viewed in light of the Labour Code (Work Permit Exemption) Order, 2017 (Work Permit Exemption), is that Chinese nationals are now able to visit the BVI for the purposes of engaging in business activities without having to obtain either a work permit or a visa. The Work Permit Exemption had previously exempted several categories of persons from the necessity of obtaining a work permit, but they were still subject to the visa requirement.

Significant categories under the Work Permit Exemption include but are not limited to:

  1. persons visiting clients for negotiations and business deals;
  2. persons attending meetings as directors, including persons who are duly appointed directors or other officers of companies whether incorporated in BVI or elsewhere for the sole purpose of participating in meetings of the board of directors of such companies; and
  3. persons attending meetings, conferences, seminars and other similar business related activities offered by BVI-registered businesses, statutory bodies, non-government organisations and other BVI-registered entities.

Now, BVI-registered businesses, statutory bodies, non-government organisations and other BVI-registered entities will only be required to provide persons exempted under the Work Permit Exemption with a letter of invitation issued by management of the registered BVI entity. These letters must be addressed to the exempted persons, stating their work title, date of expected arrival, the duration of their stay and purpose of their visit and the amount of the fees charged or to be paid to anyone to be exempted . In the case of events, conferences, seminars, meetings or other activities involving large groups of exempted persons, written notice to the BVI's immigration department of the activity and a list of persons falling within any category of exemption under the Work Permit Exemption would be accepted in lieu of individual letters.

This noteworthy development is expected to contribute to the BVI's ability to attract and retain clientele from mainland China and demonstrates the BVI's determination to further support its growth in this part of the world.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.