Mauritius, and without any doubt, is now positioned as a leading international business centre. This is the result of a combination of factors: the vision of our leaders, constant investment and effort over the years and implementing a well defined national strategy. From an agriculture based economy, the island has successfully transformed itself into a world class financial hub . One of the drivers of such a success story lies in the way foreign capital and expertise have been injected into our economy.
Foreign labour is today part and parcel of almost every economic sector in Mauritius. And the proper management of foreign labour according to set laws is therefore a growing concern for business owners. Contrary to common belief, employing of foreign labour involves several laws over and above the Employments Rights Act. We have often came across cases where expatriates are not fully aware of their rights, obligations and responsibilities. They are pushed to the wall and are, in a lot of cases, left with no other choice than to leave the country (without adequate compensation). In some cases where matters go to court, it is fairly common practice for employers to trigger the deportation of the employee themselves. This then results in the concerned person being absent from court with no case to answer. Next in our HR series of articles, we intend to devote some time to foreign workers living and working on the island. This article focuses on the first stage of foreign labour employment : securing work and residence permits.
Foreigners who work in Mauritius need to abide by the Immigration Act as far as their residence is concerned. The employer has the responsibility of ensuring that all required Laws are respected. Work and residence can be considered as two separate things and both call for distinct procedures to be followed. Basically one needs to get approval to work (through a work permit for example) and based on this approval, you are then allowed to stay and work in Mauritius. This permission to stay comes in the form of a residence permit. The work permit scheme is regulated under the labour law and the Immigration Act. The scheme caters for employees with a salary not exceeding Rs45,000 a month.
A Mauritian company wishing to employ a foreigner, has to make an application for a work permit to the Ministry of Labour. Depending on the industry, the employer needs to seek prior approval to recruit foreign labour before actually submitting an application. In other words, one has to ask for permission to apply for work permit. The Ministry will then decide whether there is a scarcity of such labour on the local market and allow the employer to look for the ideal candidate abroad. Once the candidate is selected, there is a specific set of procedures to be undertaken. At this stage, the application stage, the employee must not undertake any travel to Mauritius. He or she should await the final outcome of the application before entering the country. Application procedures involve presenting the qualifications of the candidate, original copies of medical examination results, a job profile and details of the post to be occupied. In cases when the proposed salary is less than Rs30,000, the proposed contract of employment has to be validated by the Ministry prior to submitting the work permit application. The medical results should be submitted to the Ministry of Health for a provisional clearance. In parallel, the employer has to also submit an application for a residence permit to the Passport and Immigration Office. The processing of both applications may take from one to three months.
The work permit scheme can in some cases also cater for business promoters who do not fit the criteria of Investor Occupation Permit, i.e. invest US$100,000 and generate Rs4 million as annual turnover. Here the promoter may apply as a managing director drawing a salary of less than Rs45,000 per month. However, the company needs to justify the presence of the managing director, why such presence is essential and why no Mauritian is able to hold this post.
The biggest constraint with the work permit scheme is that applicants must stay in their country and wait for the outcome of their application prior to entering Mauritius. On the brighter side though, and contrary to the Occupation Permit (see below) where the applicant needs to be in Mauritius, a work permit allows you get approval before spending huge sums of money on flights and accommodation to come all the way here.
With changes in the global socio-economic environment coupled by the need for Mauritius to attract higher skills, other schemes have been introduced with time. One such scheme is the Occupation Permit (OP). This scheme is managed by the Board of Investment (BOI) but the Passport & Immigration office is the authority that issues this permit; operating under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office. Occupation Permits provide for a streamlined set of procedures, faster processing time and also take into account the modern human resources environment.
Occupation Permits (OP) are divided into four categories; investor, retired, self-employed and professionals. Employees are classified under the professional category while self-employed caters for ‘gold-collar’ professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, consultants, etc.
An essential condition is that the candidate should be a qualified professional and is in possession of a job offer with Rs45,000 as minimum basic monthly salary. The only exception here is in the IT sector, where the proposed salary can start as from Rs30,000 per month.
A notable difference in the procedure (as compared to work permits) is that the candidate should be present in Mauritius during the application process, on a business visa. He or she should show his original documents such as birth certificate, marriage certificate (if the spouse intends to move over as well), original or certified copies of all qualifications and testimonials. All medical examination have to be exclusively carried out in Mauritius. There is no prior clearance to to be sought from the Ministry of Health as all documents are submitted at one counter, and this is at the Board of Investment (BOI). The BOI, like most institutions in the country, has been caught in the tide for innovation. As such it his introduced a preliminary online application procedure. I admit, however, not being too sure as to the effectiveness of this step at this stage, especially since one still has to present all his documents in the conventional manner to the counter once the online step has been completed. But let’s assume that this is only due to being at teething stage and the online system, will soon be a full fledged and complete procedure that will replace conventional paper work. As an aside though, I beg to be allowed to doubt the effectiveness of the online system – officers of the BOI keep repeating this to applicants: ‘Ignore all our emails until you get the last one’. I’m sure you ask the same question as I am; how to know which one is the last email? And why must ignore official correspondence from an authority, if it takes the trouble of sending or generating these emails? Well, this is not the subject of our blog but I can’t refrain myself from adding two pinch of my personal salt (!).
The processing time for an Occupation permit ranges between 10 to 15 days. In the earlier days, Mauritius was boasting itself of a processing time of 3 working days. This processing time was initially part of an overall strategy to attract foreign labour and capital, reflecting the standards of a modern business jurisdiction. The law even stated that if one did not get one’s permits within a maximum delay of 7 days, it can be assumed that the permit has been granted. The receipt certifying submission of your application would legally stand as the Occupation Permit! Today this ‘speed processing’ strategy seems to have vanished.
Holders of an OP have access to other incentives over the medium and long term. Under certain conditions, they can purchase an apartment in, at its minimum, a two-storey complex. Those earning more than Rs150,000 a month can even apply for a Permanent Residence. Word of caution though: Permanent Residence is a 10 year renewable permit with the ability to purchase any type of residential property.
Those aspiring to work and live in Mauritius have ensure they adequate knowledge of the immigration laws first. This law might, in some cases, supersede the labour act. In cases of breach, it can lead to expulsion even if the person is happily working in the job of his or her dreams. It is recommended that you consult a professional to assist (or confirm) foreign labour recruitment plans. If you are a future expatriate or thinking about the ways to benefit from the professional residence scheme, do not hesitate to contact our team for advice and guidance.
Foreign labour is an essential and integral part of the progress achieved by our island. Expatriates have been contributing at every level and we, as Mauritians, need to acknowledge this contribution. The legendary hospitable culture of the island makes work and living a very enjoyable experience for foreigners. However, at times abuse by employers, mostly in bulk employment situations, have tarnished the reputation of the island. Inhuman accommodation conditions, bad work conditions and insufficient remuneration (or even its complete absence) have been highlighted in the press. It should be said and noted, however, that the reaction of the Minister of Labour in the recent part was quick, to the point and very effective.
This is proof enough that Mauritian authorities are doing their best to maintain the reputation of Mauritius as a world class destination for entrepreneurs and skilled professionals.