The Government reiterated its commitment to key work permit holders Thursday by announcing that the Business Staffing Plan Board recently approved applications identifying people as employees exempted from the seven-year fixed term policy.
The action was taken partially as a measure to stem the post-Hurricane Ivan departure of professionals from the Cayman Islands, something Business Staffing Plan Board chairperson Sherri Bodden-Cowan called a brain drain.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said she has heard from several companies in the financial industry having difficulties retaining, returning and recruiting top-level staff in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.
Post hurricane conditions such as accommodation shortages and other inconveniences are giving rise to a situation where non-Caymanians are ‘thinking twice about employment in the Islands,’ Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said.
‘Some employers are having to pay extra hardship money to get professionals to stay,’ she said.
Compounding the problem is the fact that professionals, like all other non-Caymanians, face the seven-year term limit on work permits.
In some cases, professionals who had to relocate their families after Ivan are unsure if they want to return especially those who did not have many years left on their fixed term, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said.
‘Some people have said they do not want to go through the process of moving back here just to be told they would have to leave again in two or three years,’ she said.
‘They want to know what commitment they have from these Islands to return here.’
The number of combined work permit holders in the professional and administrative/managerial categories is down more than 10 per cent from a year ago, according to statistics provided by Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said international demand for professional workers is high and that the Cayman Islands must compete with other jurisdictions to hire and retain their expertise.
‘Many professionals have worked in other jurisdictions, where they have been welcomed with open arms.’
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said there are not enough qualified Caymanians to fill the jobs needed, and there are not enough Caymanians in tertiary education to ease the local demand for professionals in the short term.
‘At the moment, we have a situation were we need foreign nationals,’ she said. ‘They’re the ones who are helping us in our rebuilding.’
In getting identified as an exempted employee, a work permit holder is given the right to work in Cayman for nine years instead of seven.
After being here eight years, work permit holders would have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said being an exempted employee would not guarantee a person would receive permanent residency.
‘They would still have to qualify under the point system,’ she said.
The revised Immigration Law passed in December 2003 that mandated fixed term limits for work permit holders and allowed for exempted employees, went in to effect last May.
Exempted employees can be identified by either the Immigration Board or by the Business Staffing Plan Board.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said her board identified only a limited number exempted employees last year, but has been more actively doing so this year.
There are several different criteria stated in the Immigration Law for who is eligible to be identified as an exempted employee.
Work permit holders possessing required skills not available in adequate measure on the island would qualify as an exempted employee, as would someone with business contacts that are important to the continued success of a business, or of the Cayman Islands.
Other criteria are stated in the Law as well.
‘We wanted the criteria to be general enough for people to qualify, and flexible enough so that it could change as the island changes,’ said Mrs. Bodden-Cowan.
The Cabinet of the Cayman Islands supported the Business Staffing Plan’s announcement, although Leader of Government Business, McKeeva Bush said the Government policy is still to give Caymanians first priority for every available job, including the top positions.
However, Mr. Bush acknowledged the role of the foreign worker in Cayman.
‘The survival of our financial community and other key businesses on the Island depends on the ability of such institutions to attract and retain top professionals from around the world,’ he said.
‘This remains the policy of the Government in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and this gesture serves to assure the business sector that Government is a willing and sensitive partner in the Cayman Islands economic prosperity.’