Residing in the BVI

The British Virgin Islands is a place of great natural beauty and many visitors wish to make their stay more permanent. Whether that dream can become a reality will depend to a great extent on whether a person meets the requirements that will enable them to reside in the BVI, either on a short or long term basis.  

Residing Indefinitely in the BVI

Unless you are a Virgin Islander there are only very limited options for residing indefinitely in the BVI. To do so, you must be either:

  • A Belonger of the BVI; or
  • A person to whom a certificate of residence has been issued under the relevant immigration legislation.  

Belonger

A Belonger is a person deemed to belong to the BVI according to the Constitution of the BVI. In broad terms, a Belonger is a person of BVI ancestry and includes other persons who have been granted Belonger status under the relevant immigration legislation. It is possible for Belonger status to be granted to a person who is a Non-Belonger, but the circumstances in which the status may be granted are very limited.  

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Certificate of Residence

A certificate of residence may be granted to any person of good character who, in his/her application, has stated their intention to reside permanently in the BVI.  

While an application for a certificate of residence may be an option for some, it is unlikely to be of broad appeal because:

  • The current immigration policy established a threshold of 20 years of continuous residence in the BVI before such an application will be considered;
  • In order for a person’s period of permanent residence to be considered permanent, that person should not have been absent from the BVI for any period greater than 90 days in any calendar year; and
  • The current immigration policy provides for a very limited number of applications to be approved in each year.

Clearly, there are limited options for indefinite residency in the BVI for the vast majority of persons. There are alternatives, which are in many ways more easily attainable, though these will not allow residence on an indefinite basis as a matter of right. These options are as follows:

  • Permission to reside/entry permit;
  • Employment within the BVI following the issue of a work permit;
  • Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence ID Card; and
  • Visitor Entry

Permission to Reside

A person who does not hold a certificate of residence may remain in the BVI from year to year pursuant to immigration clearance on the basis of permission to reside. An application for permission to reside may be made to the Chief Immigration Officer, providing evidence to satisfy her that the applicant:

  • Does not intend to remain permanently in the BVI;
  • Will not engage in or seek to engage in any employment in the BVI; and
  • Has sufficient funds to support themselves without working for the duration of their stay and can also meet the cost of a return journey to the applicant’s usual place of residence.  

The application for permission to reside typically takes 1-2 months to be processed. The fee is fairly modest, however the applicant is likely to be required to post a bond with the Immigration Department to cover the cost of a return journey to the applicant’s usual place of residence in the event that the applicant breaches the terms of the permission to reside and is required to leave the BVI as a consequence. The bond is refundable in the event the applicant does not renew the permission to reside.

This is a popular option for homeowners, including retirees who plan to spend significant amounts of time in the BVI. The permission to reside is valid for up to one year and during that time the recipient may leave and re-enter the BVI at will. There are no limits under the relevant immigration legislation on the number of times that the permission to reside may be renewed. Renewal is solely at the discretion of the Chief Immigration Officer or the Minister responsible for Immigration.   

Employment within the BVI

The economy of the BVI is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean. For persons with the requisite skills, there is the potential opportunity to reside and work in the BVI, where employment positions cannot be filled locally.

Work permits are required for all those wishing to engage in employment in the BVI (whether paid or unpaid), unless you are:

  • A Virgin Islander;
  • A Belonger; or
  • Otherwise exempt from requiring a work permit pursuant to the relevant employment legislation.

Holders of work permits relating to employment in the BVI may continue to reside in the BVI from year to year while the contract of employment underlying the work permit, and the work permit both remain in effect. The work permit is renewable annually and in this regard, the work permit is similar to the permission to reside, without the prohibition on working. There are no statutory limits on the number of times that a work permit, and the related immigration clearance, may be renewed.

Unlike some other countries in the Caribbean (and other parts of the world), the BVI does not grant residence status exclusively on the basis of investment in the local economy. However, an increasing number of people are choosing to base their business operations in the BVI. By doing so, those persons have the opportunity to reside in the BVI as holders of a work permit, subject to also satisfying the regulatory requirements to enable the operation of the underlying business.

Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence ID Card

The purchase of property in the BVI does not by itself entitle a person to reside here. A Non-Belonger (a person who is neither a Virgin Islander or a Belonger) wishing to purchase property in the BVI must first apply for and have been granted a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence, which authorises the holder to own property in the BVI. Once a person holds such a licence, that person may apply for an identification card which may be shown to the immigration officials on arrival to the BVI and will entitle that person to remain in the BVI for up to six months in any twelve month period, subject to any extension granted by the Chief Immigration Officer.

Visitor Entry

In the absence of the identification card referred to above (or the other forms of immigration clearance already discussed), persons may enter and remain in the BVI subject to the usual conditions of entry afforded to visitors. Visitors are usually permitted to remain for one month, subject to any extension granted by the Chief Immigration Officer. An entry visa is not required for visitors from many countries, including the United States of America and much of Western Europe, but visitors should check the visa requirements (if any) applicable to their country of citizenship.    

For further guidance on residing in the BVI, please reach out to Paul Mellor, Senior Associate in Harneys Private Client practice group.

 

Paul Mellor

Paul Mellor

is a Senior Associate of the Private Client group at the Harneys BVI office. He advises corporate and private clients as well as financial institutions on a range of commercial and residential property matters.
Paul Mellor

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