Opinion

Wake-up call from down south

  • Ben Smith is the Shadow Minister of National Security and the MP for Southampton West Central Constituency 31)

The Covid-19 pandemic has, and will, cause significant changes to our way of life. We have already had to adapt to unfamiliar phrases such as “shelter in place” and “the new normal”, which will become clear only as time passes.

Many of us have been working from home, adjusting to Zoom calls, group chats and many other ways of communicating for business, school and personal issues, and I have no doubt that some of these changes will be with us for a while yet.

These changes have not only affected us personally, but there have been significant — and negative — knock-on effects on our economy. We have seen fewer people in town owing to people working from home, which has impacted many different businesses.

Our economy was in a bad shape pre-Covid and we are still waiting to hear details of the Government’s plan to resurrect our economy post-Covid. However, every crisis offers opportunities, and we are seeing other countries adapting much more quickly than Bermuda.

Barbados has looked at the idea of working from home and what that could mean as a business opportunity, and they are considering introducing a 12-month Welcome stamp that would allow visitors to work remotely from the island for a year at a time.

We should urgently consider the same idea. With our good infrastructure coupled with our testing regime and low reproductive number, we would be a perfect jurisdiction for overseas people to work. As I mentioned, we are all familiar with talking to people overseas via Zoom now.

It can be done.

Allowing this will support Bermudians and Bermudian businesses, helping to create more demand, opening new rental opportunities and bringing in people who will spend money in our stores and attracting much needed money from overseas.

The Premier has admitted the need to grow the population, and this is an outside-the-box idea that could capitalise on the changes we are seeing throughout the world.

The United States recently decided to withdraw visas from foreign students whose courses have moved fully online. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said that students could face deportation as a result unless they were prepared to change to a college that offered the same course with in-person tuition.

How this will affect students remains to be seen, but is this something Bermuda could capitalise on? Could we create an opportunity for a hotel to become the room and board for these international students? Perhaps some of the tens of thousands of square feet of empty office space could be used.

With our time zone, safe environment, low number of Covid-19 cases and excellent infrastructure, we could be a safe option for them. Many of these international students are wealthy and something such as this would start relationships with the students and their families, who would want to visit Bermuda.

The question, however, with both these ideas is: can the Government move quickly enough? Can we make changes in immigration and act swiftly to seize opportunities in front of us, so we are leaders in this new normal? Or will we dither and wait until it is too late?

Covid-19 shut down economies around the world and as they reopen it will be the countries that act swiftly and innovate that will create the opportunities for their people. Can Bermuda — and this government — rise to that challenge?

Ben Smith is the Shadow Minister of National Security and the MP for Southampton West Central Constituency 31)