A bill to amend the Immigration Law 2003 was to be taken to the Legislative Assembly today with a provision that would allow people whose final work permit has expired under the seven-year term limit to apply for an extra nine-month work permit.
The provision would only be valid until 31 December, 2006.
According to the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons of Bill, which was circulated to Legislative Assembly members on Friday afternoon, its object, among other things, is to ‘alleviate any short term hardship encountered by employers in the operation of their businesses as a result of the term limit provisions of the Law, the application of which would see the immediate departure of a number of vital employees from the workplace’.
Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin hinted that some relief to the seven-year term limit was possible in the Cabinet press briefing on Friday morning, but did not specify what. He did say, however, that the Cabinet had called an informal meeting that afternoon to discuss the matter.
The bill going to the House today will also addresses a possible loophole in the Immigration Law.
Under the proposed amendment, if an appeal is made concerning a Work Permit Board decision that stated the Board had no power to renew a work permit because of the expiry of the term limit, any time a person spends in the country while awaiting the outcome of such appeal could not be used to help that person qualify to apply for permanent residency.
In the absence of Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, who was ill, Mr. McLaughlin talked at length about the fixed term limit at the Cabinet press briefing.
He stated that the one thing his government and the previous government agreed on was the necessity for the fixed-term policy.
‘Cayman simply has no choice than to have a fixed term policy unless we’re prepared to say good-by to the Cayman we have known.
‘We have approximately 22,000 people here on work permits,’ he said. ‘If half of those people have one dependent, that brings the number up to 33,000.
‘If all of those people were allowed to stay here, in 10 years time, all of them would be able to demand security of tenure, and rightfully so.’
Mr. McLaughlin said those kinds of numbers of immigrants could not be absorbed in the society.
‘Government has to consider the economic issue, and that’s why we’re looking at the Law, but it would be a dereliction of duty if we only did that an ignored the social implications.’
Mr. McLaughlin said that if the views and attitudes of the Caymanian people – many of whom feel they are losing control of their own country – are ignored, it was a ‘recipe for social disaster’.
Stating the position clearly, Mr. McLaughlin said the Government would not abandon the term limits policy, and said the review of the Law is not addressing that point.
‘Nothing radical is going to change with the principles of the Law,’ he said.
What most likely will change with amendments to the Immigration Law was the definition of who could qualify as an exempted employee.
Those designated as exempted employees are not subject to the seven-year term limit, and can apply for two more years of work permits, long enough for them to qualify to apply for permanent residency after their eighth year here.
Mr. McLaughlin said one of the things the Government was wrestling with was how to decide who could be exempted employees.
Under the law, a case could be made that almost anybody should be granted exempted employee status, he said.
‘Each of us that has a [domestic] helper can and probably will make a case they should be exempted because they are vital,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
‘But if we were to allow that, no one would ever be rolled over.’
Mr. McLaughlin said it was necessary to step away from the situation and to look at it dispassionately.
‘Essentially, there are thousands like [the domestic helper] that would come here at the drop of a hat.
‘The question we have to ask is can this person be easily replaced or not.’
Mr. McLaughlin said Government needed to ensure local businesses and firms could continue to attract and keep top quality workers here.
‘We don’t want to create a situation where we are training our people up just to export them to our competitors like the Bahamas or Bermuda,’ he said.
Mr. McLaughlin said the guidelines set out in the Immigration Law for exempted employees need to be tightened.
‘Right now, they are so vague and general that just about anybody in the world could be exempted,’ he said.
Mr. McLaughlin noted that it was understood that some people would become exempted.
‘The objective isn’t to stop immigration here altogether,’ he said. ‘It’s to slow it to a level where this country can absorb the numbers.’