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.
1. FILINGS – NORMAL SERVICE
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? – NORMAL SERVICE
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 – LIMITED SERVICES
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. COURT SESSIONS AND POSITION (INCLUDING FILINGS AND HEARINGS) - Limited Services
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 whenever this is possible. To facilitate that, an Emergency Measures Practice Direction came into force. 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.
5. ANY TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS – OPEN WITH RESTRICTIONS
The BVI is currently open to international visitors. The entry requirements include quarantine at approved accommodations, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing, medical travel insurance that includes Covid-19 coverage and contact tracking through mobile phones and wearable devices.
FULLY VACCINATED PERSONS
A person is deemed to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 two weeks after they have received both doses of an approved two-dose vaccine, such as Astrazeneca, Pfizer, or Moderna or one shot of a single dose vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson.
Fully vaccinated persons travelling to the BVI would be required to provide an PCR test or an approved rapid antigen test within five (5) days of arrival and provide satisfactory evidence of being fully vaccinated.
No quarantine time would be required would be required (on the basis that the PRC test or an approved rapid antigen test is negative).
PARTIALLY VACCINATED PERSONS
A person is deemed to be partially vaccinated if that person has received one dose of a two-dose vaccine, or whose final vaccine dose was administered less than two weeks before arrival to the BVI.
Partially vaccinated persons travelling to the BVI would be required to provide the following:
- a PCR test within five (5) days of travel; and
- satisfactory evidence of being partially vaccinated.
Partially vaccinated persons will be quarantined for a period of 4 days on arrival to the BVI. A PCR test or a rapid antigen test will be required on arrival and on day 4 of the quarantine period.
Unvaccinated adults will be quarantined for a period of 7 days on arrival to the BVI. A PCR will be required on arrival to the BVI.
A travel ban has been implemented for persons traveling from or through Brazil and India. Persons travelling from Brazil and India and who are granted permission to enter the BVI will be required to quarantine for a period of 14 days on arrival to the BVI.
6. OTHER TEMPORARY REGULATORY MEASURES
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 has been 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 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 December 2021 with certain conditions.
7. IMPLICATIONS FOR ECONOMIC SUBSTANCE COMPLIANCE AND RESIDENCY
The British Virgin Islands’ International Tax Authority (ITA) 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.
The ITA provided 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.