BERMUDA RULING PARTY'S VICTORY ENDS FEARS OF WORK PERMIT LIMITS

BERMUDA RULING PARTY'S VICTORY ENDS FEARS OF WORK PERMIT LIMITS

A narrow victory by the ruling party in Bermuda's election earlier this month means no limits will be placed on the length of time non-Bermudans may hold work permits on the island.

A nine-year limit on the amount of time foreigners may hold work permits had been opposed by many American insurance companies and other international businesses on the island.A third of the 1,800 people international companies employ on the island are foreigners. Insurers had expressed concern that they might not be able to replace their top managers with others of comparable experience and expertise, if the proposed limits were enforced.

''It's not practical yet to expect a small country like Bermuda with a population of 60,000 people to have the appropriate number of high-level experienced people to be hired," said Gavin R. Arton, senior vice president of investor relations with excess liability insurer EXEL Ltd., of Hamilton, Bermuda.

''The demand for experienced senior executives is still higher than the island can supply," he said.

New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos. and J.P. Morgan Co. were EXEL's founding investors in the 1980s, when liability coverages were difficult to obtain.

Bermuda has become an attractive insurance haven because U.S. companies can accumulate investment income tax free and enjoy freedom from U.S. capital restrictions and other domestic regulation.

The island is the world's largest center for captive insurers, which corporations use to self-insure their risks, and it has become the choice location for a whole host of new facilities designed to capitalize on the shortage of property-catastrophe reinsurance.

Jonathan Crawley, president of Sphere Drake Underwriting (Management) Bermuda Ltd., a Bermuda reinsurance company that writes reinsurance programs for captive insurers, said international businesses on the island are comfortable with the status quo.

"The relationship between the government and international business, especially the insurance industry, has always been excellent," Mr. Crawley said. "It has been a mutually beneficial partnership."

But this month the opposition party, which is predominantly black and has strong ties to trade unions, nearly scoredits first victory since it was founded in 1963.

The opposition Progressive Labor Party won 18 of the 40 seats in Bermuda's Parliament.

Leaders of the opposition party offered several ideas during the campaign that they said would increase the number of high-paying jobs available to Bermudans in particular.

Those ideas included limiting to nine years the length of time non- Bermudans could hold local work permits.

The labor party also had recommended a Ministry of International Business.

The idea behind the proposed ministry was to give foreigncompanies a central place to turn to for work permits, housing assistance and other aid to ease the process of setting up operations on the island.

Leaders of the ruling United Bermuda Party counter that it planned to step up its recruitment of international businesses regardless of its victory margin.

But the idea of limiting the stay of non-Bermudan workers and creating a new ministry to recruit international businesses will be rejected, said Grant Gibbons, campaign chairman of the United Bermuda Party and managing director of Gibbons Co., a retail company.

Mr. Gibbons said the only drawback of the ruling party's four-vote margin is its members may need to curtail travel plans at times to avoid losing the voting advantage.

Terry Lister, campaign manager with the opposition party and a partner with the Bermuda office of the international accounting firm Deloitte and Touche, pointed to a stream of international property catastrophe insurers that continued to set up operations in Bermuda during the months preceding the election as proof that businesses had nothing to fear if his party won.