The British Virgin Islands (BVI) Government has taken proactive measures which are designed to control, suppress and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by restricting access to the BVI and encouraging social distancing.
The BVI’s Virtual Integrated Registry Regulatory General Information Network (VIRRGIN) is the main means of obtaining publicly available information, lodging filings and registrations for BVI Business Companies. It is an electronic system and its functionality has not been affected by measures put in place to deal with COVID-19. All filings/registrations can be undertaken electronically through VIRRGIN in the usual manner.
2. can Searches be conducted?
Company Searches can be undertaken electronically via VIRRGIN, which is operational in the usual manner.
Court Searches (JEMS, Probate, E-Litigation Portal)
Searches are being conducted from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday to Friday in the usual manner.
3. Certificates of good standing and apostille – if and how these are being conducted
Certificates of Good Standing for BVI companies are available electronically via VIRRGIN and hard copies can be collected daily from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. by appointment only.
The Deputy Governor’s Office continues to provide apostille services between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
4. Other searches – how are these being conducted?
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. To facilitate that, an Emergency Measures Practice Direction came into force on 23 March 2020. That Practice Direction has since been revised thrice. 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.
Documents may be filed in all matters that are not currently subject to the E-Filing regime by attendance at the High Court Registry. However, restrictions consistent with social distancing policies on access to the Registry have been applied, with the result that this process may now take a little longer.
Arrangements have been made for documents to be filed electronically by email in all non E-Litigation Portal cases where curfews are in place that result in the High Court Registry closing to the public, if accompanied with an undertaking given by a Legal Practitioner to pay the relevant fees.
The Judiciary are currently accepting electronic bundles and the submission of written submissions electronically.
The Court is attempting to adopt a “business as normal” approach. The COVID-19 Emergency Practice Direction has been fine tuned since March and is now on its fourth iteration. The Practice Direction records that “the objective is to undertake as many hearings as possible remotely” with face to face hearings discouraged. Paragraph 5.3 of the Practice Direction provides that “nothing in the Practice Direction derogates from the judicial officer’s duty to determine all issues that arise in the case judicially and in accordance with normal principles.”
In the Commercial Division, the Court list is being heard as normal, but with the vast majority of matters being heard by video conference or telephone. The Court will nevertheless facilitate face to face hearings where that is appropriate. The Resident Commercial Judge recently heard a lengthy trial remotely, and it has adjusted court hours to suit those participating in Asia.
Consistently with the COVID-19 Emergency Practice Direction, a majority of hearings in civil matters in the High Court are taking place remotely. However, physical hearings are taking place where necessary – principally for trials and committal applications.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is an itinerant Court that has its headquarters in St Lucia, but which travels across the Member States and Territories. Having regard to the risk to the Court, and reduced airlift, all hearings have taken place remotely since March 2020.
The BVI International Arbitration Centre has made provisions to deal with hearings remotely.
PROBATE AND ADMINISTRATION OF ESTATES
Probates applications are being processed in the usual manner.
6. Any travel restrictions
The BVI is currently open to international visitors. The entry requirements include quarantine at approved accommodations, Polymerase Chain Reaction testing, medical travel insurance that includes COVID-19 coverage and contact tracking through mobile phones and wearable devices.
A travel ban has been implemented for persons traveling from the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Brazil to the BVI, except for Nationals, Belongers, Residents, work permit holders, persons permitted to reside in the BVI, diplomats and persons employed by the BVI Government and Statutory Agencies.
7. Other Temporary Regulatory Measures – updated
The BVI Financial Services Commission (Commission) has adjusted levels of services as follows:
- In person operations at the physical Asia Representative Office resumed on 15 January 2021.
- In-person operations at the physical offices in the BVI resumed on 21 December 2020.
The Financial Services (Exceptional Circumstances) Act, 2020 (FS Act) came into force on 28 March 2020 and was gazetted on 2 April 2020. The FS Act and the Financial Services (Exceptional Circumstances) Order, 2020 (Order) includes a structure that allows for stability of financial services operations, conducted in and from the BVI during extraordinary situations and permits relocation in the BVI or elsewhere and will modify certain regulatory obligations. The provisions of and measures introduced under the FS Act was initially extended beyond 31 July 2020 but has been recently further extended to 30 September 2021.
The Financing and Money Services (Amendment) Act, 2020 introduces a transaction levy of 7% on the gross amount of each money transmission out of the BVI.
The BVI Labour Code, 2010 was amended to extend the period in which severance is payable to 27 February 2021 by employers to their employees who were temporarily laid off pursuant to section 107 of the BVI Labour Code.
The BVI Stamp Act was amended to dispense with stamp duty for the sale or transfer of real property in the BVI to a Belonger for an instrument of sale or transfer executed during the period 7 May 2020 to 31 May 2021 with certain conditions.
8. Implications for economic substance compliance and residency
On 18 March 2020, the British Virgin Islands’ International Tax Authority (ITA) issued a press release to the effect that it does not propose to make any changes to previously announced deadlines. However, the ITA intends to adopt a reasonable and practical approach where legal entities are obliged to make adjustments to their operating practices in order to mitigate the threats from COVID-19 and the ITA will not seek to prejudice those entities which temporarily adjust their normal operating practices so as to mitigate the threats of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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 of the outbreak.
On 27 March 2020, the ITA issued a follow-up press release providing further particulars that should be borne in mind with respect to economic substance, repeating the above-stated reminder that any arrangements that are put in place would only be temporary:
- Where possible, recourse should be had to the appointment of alternate directors in the BVI in order to meet substance requirements;
- All directors do not have to attend Board meetings in the BVI – only as many as required to make the meeting quorate (given social distancing protocols, virtual meetings may be preferred);
- Not all Board meetings need to be held in the BVI – only those related to core income generating activities;
- Where it is still not possible to have a Board meeting in the BVI or to meet some other substance requirement due to restrictions (whether in the BVI or otherwise) due to the COVID-19 outbreak, then entities are urged to retain documentation to be able to support such claims for the applicable periods of time affected; and
- Individual requests should be made to the ITA for any extension of time within which to comply with Notices, along with any supporting evidence.