The British Virgin Islands (BVI) currently does not have any confirmed cases of Covid-19. However, the Government has taken proactive measures which are designed to protect the Territory from imported cases, by restricting access to the Territory, preventing businesses from operating between the hours of 8pm and 8am and through encouraging social distancing.
All filings/registrations can be undertaken electronically through the VIRRGIN system in the usual manner.
Filings for Investment Business Division
Investment business licensees, mutual funds, and approved managers are being encouraged, where practical, to comply with the upcoming deadline of 31 March 2020 for the payment of annual licence fees. However, the BVI Financial Services Commission will not apply nor issue penalty fees for late submission until after 30 April 2020.
2. can Searches be conducted?
Company Searches can be undertaken electronically through the VIRRGIN system, which is operational in the usual manner.
Court Searches (JEMS, Probate, E-Litigation Portal)
Court Searches will continue at the Court Registry whilst the Registry remains open to the public. A legacy of Hurricane Irma in 2017 is that provisions are being made for searches to be performed electronically in the event that physical attendance at the Court Registry is curtailed.
3. Certificates of good standing – if and how these are being conducted
Certificates of Good Standing for BVI companies are available electronically through the VIRRGIN electronic system.
4. Other searches – how are these being conducted?
Trademark and Patent Searches
Trademark and Patent Searches can be submitted electronically using the approved form to a prescribed email address. Please contact Shana Simmonds from our BVI office if you wish to conduct any BVI trademark or patent searches.
Real Property Searches
Searches can be conducted in person on Mondays and Wednesdays only from 9am to 12pm. Only three customers are allowed in the Lands Unit at any given time.
5. Court sessions and position (including filings and hearings)
The resolution of disputes in the Commercial Court is an important part of the infrastructure in the BVI and the Court intends to adopt a business as usual approach whilst ever this is possible. In practice, what this means is that:
In respect of all matters that have been issued since the advent of e-filing, all filings can be undertaken electronically through the E-Litigation Portal in the usual manner.
An Emergency Measures Practice Direction came into force on 23 March 2020 to facilitate the filing by email of documents in older matters that are not currently administered through the E-Litigation Portal. Restrictions consistent with social distancing policies on access to the Registry have also been applied.
The Judiciary are currently accepting electronic bundles and the submission of written submissions electronically.
Interestingly, the Court has also adopted some of the measures put in place following Hurricane Irma to facilitate service of documents (including originating documents) by email.
In the Commercial Division, during the period 19 March 2020 and 17 April 2020 (the Interim Period) the Court will continue to hear matters by video conference or telephone where facilities and support staff permit.
Hearings with a time estimate of two hours or less are treated as being suitable to be heard by video or telephone conference.
The Court may also direct, on an application or on its own motion, that any other hearing may proceed by telephone or video conference, or by physical attendance in Court.
In the High Court, all hearings are suspended unless they are urgent or fit to be dealt with during this Period.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is an itinerant Court that travels from jurisdictions in which Covid-19 is present. It therefore took the precautionary step of suspending its sitting in the BVI in March 2020.
Probate and Administration of Estates
Applications for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration are being filed and proceed in the usual manner.
Should it become impractical to file new hard copy applications for Probate or Letters of Administration, arrangements will be made for alternative means of filing.
Attorneys and the public may lodge supplemental affidavits/documents in existing applications following the same arrangements to be established for as outlined above.
6. Any travel restrictions
With effect from 22 March 2020 at 11:59 pm, for a period of 14 days, in the first instance, all airports and seaports in the BVI are closed to inbound passengers (whether nationals or non-nationals) until 6 April, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. except as pre-authorised. The restriction does not apply to freight, cargo or courier craft or vessels. International crew members on incoming vessels will be required to remain within the port facility and comply with all Public Health measures in effect.
With effect from 14 February, 2020, the visa waiver program was suspended for nationals of the PRC.
In addition, the borders are closed to persons travelling who have travelled from or through certain jurisdictions. With effect from 17 March 2020 those countries include the PRC, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France, Spain and Germany.
There are currently also requirements that those travelling from “High Risk” Countries should quarantine for 14 days following their arrival. Those countries include USA, Switzerland, UK, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Japan.
7. Other Temporary Regulatory Measures
The BVI Government announced implementation of a curfew from 8pm to 6am on 26 March 2020 and then, with effect from 8pm on 27 March a continuous curfew running until Thursday 2 April, for all inhabitants of the BVI with the exception of essential workers.
All businesses and services, and all recreational facilities are ordered to close by 8pm and remain closed until 6am the following day with effect from 22 March 2020 at 11:59 m. until 7 April 2020, and will remain under ongoing review.
With effect from 24 March 2020, the employees of the British Virgin Financial Services Commission commenced working remotely. The opening of the physical office is 9am – 1pm Monday – Friday. Face to face meetings and in-person visits are suspended.
8. Implications for economic substance compliance and residency
The British Virgin Islands Tax Authority (ITA) does not currently propose to make any changes to previously announced deadlines. However, the ITA is monitoring the international landscape carefully and will consider any appropriate adjustments in the event that applicable international deadlines are modified.
Taking into consideration the requirements for social distancing due to the coronavirus and the protocols now being implemented by offices around the Virgin Islands, all Notices to Produce Information issued by the ITA will be issued electronically. If electronic replies cannot be accommodated (for instance if hard copies or notarized copies are requested) please contact the ITA so that arrangements can be made to accommodate the delivery of the same. The ITA will notify all persons before a Notice to Produce Information is issued electronically.
With reference to Economic Substance the ITA intends to adopt a reasonable and practical approach where entities are obliged to make adjustments to their operating practices in order to mitigate the threats from the coronavirus and the ITA will not seek to prejudice those legal entities who temporarily adjust their normal operating practices so as to mitigate the threats of the corona virus outbreak.
It should be noted that any arrangements that are put in place would be temporary and persons are therefore urged to continue to make every effort to comply with all requirements (including filing deadlines) except where the practical and reasonable approach is necessary to manage the threat from the COVID-19 outbreak.