Permit crisis escalating

The ‘excessively large’ number of temporary work permit holders who are unemployed is causing a headache for Cayman’s hard-pressed Immigration Department.

‘It is disappointing to learn that so many local businesses have taken advantage of the flexibility which we demonstrated following Ivan,’ said Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson.

‘We recognised the overwhelming need to get workers on-island to help us rebuild and recover.

‘From the start of that initiative we emphasised that it would only be temporary but unfortunately, since we began tightening up last December, we have learned of many immigration violations committed by the same business owners we thought were working with us, not against us,’ he says in a GIS press release.

One of the serious problems created by these local businesses related to their failure to notify the Chief Immigration Officer when an employee ceased to be in their employ or where they advised their employees that their work permits had been cancelled, said the release.

‘We have discovered that employers often wilfully neglect to let their employees know that their permits are cancelled,’ said Mr. Manderson.

‘Sometimes the workers don’t find out until they are stopped at the airport when returning from visits home,’ he explained.

‘This behaviour is not only unfair to the permit holders, it is illegal,’ he added.

Regulation nine of the Immigration Regulations 2004 requires employers to notify the Chief Immigration Officer when a work permit holder ceases to be employed by that employer, the release said.

Fines and penalties

Employers who failed to comply with the regulation were open to a $5,000 fine and imprisonment upon conviction and it could seriously affect the chances of having future permits approved, it added.

‘Also, if it is proven that an employer did not inform a permit holder of a cancellation of his work permit and thus caused him/her to overstay his authority to remain, it is the employer who will be held responsible,’ it explained.

‘Any person who knowingly causes a person to overstay is subject to imprisonment for seven years and a $50,000 fine.’

The Immigration Department has a four-pronged strategy to deal with the situation, the release said.

‘First we have tightened the requirements to obtain a temporary work permit which has led to some 1,600 permits being refused since January and a corresponding reduction in the number of these permits in force from over 9,000 in April 2005 to 8,000 currently,’ said Mr. Manderson.

‘Secondly, we have increased our enforcement activity, including joint operations with Police and Customs.

‘We have also made it more difficult for visitors to obtain temporary work permits by requiring them to be off island while their permits are being processed.

‘And finally, we have increased our vigilance at the airport, leading to a significant increase in the refusal of persons who are not genuine tourists,’ he said.

Mr. Manderson also commended the efforts of immigration enforcement officers who are currently investigating 181 cases of immigration crime involving both work permit holders and their employers.

Included in this number are 81 cases of employers providing false information on work permit application forms, says the release.

Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Jeannie Lewis, the officer in charge of the department’s enforcement section points out that that a local janitorial company was recently convicted and fined $4,000 for work permit and trade and business violations while another employer was fined $2,000 for employing people without a work permit.

‘These developments demonstrate our commitment to vigorously enforcing the Immigration Law,’ said Ms. Lewis.

‘However, we need the support of the community, so if you know of persons who are committing immigration crimes don’t just sit back and complain, seize the initiative and inform the Immigration Department.’

This can be done anonymously by calling 244-2028 or 244-2027 or by dropping off an unsigned letter to the office, the release said.

‘The Immigration Department has for some time now been required to act quite differently than we did after Ivan and we are doing just that, in a fair but firm manner,’ Mr. Manderson concluded.