Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said Government has decided to empower Cabinet to designate particular categories of employees in certain industries as exempted.
Exempted employees are not subject to the seven year term limit, and are allowed to get work permits in the Cayman Islands for up to nine years, long enough for them to qualify to apply for permanent residence.
The announcement was made during the Policy Statement Address at the State Opening of the Legislative Assembly last Friday, when Mr. Tibbetts gave some pre-indication of the nature of the legislative changes expected in the Immigration Law.
Amending legislation is expected to be brought to the House in July, once the ongoing review of the Immigration Law and Regulations is completed, Mr. Tibbetts noted.
‘Notwithstanding that, it would perhaps be appropriate for me to outline in broad terms the nature of the review to date and some of the policies that we intend to see reflected in the amending legislation.’
With regard to the term limit policy, Mr. Tibbetts said its need was generally understood and accepted by both Caymanians and expatriates.
‘But the Government recognises that the policy must be measured in its application so as to ensure that we continue to enjoy the economic prosperity for which these islands are well known,’ he said. ‘By measured, I mean that steps must be taken to ensure that employers continue to have access to sufficient expertise and manpower in order to have business continuity.’
Mr. Tibbetts noted that employers needed not only to retain personnel, but also to be able to recruit high calibre replacements.
In looking to address the exempt employee provisions, Mr. Tibbetts said it was the Government’s view that more attention needed to be paid to whether there is a global shortage of a particular skill set rather than a local shortage, given the fact that Cayman imports labour for virtually every category of employee.
‘Although we intend to retain the current procedure that allows for individual applications for exemption to be made to the relevant boards, the Government has taken the decision to create a more robust tool to address this concern by creating a new provision that would vest in the Governor in Cabinet the power to designate particular categories of employees in particular industries or sectors of the economy as exempted,’ he said.
The provision would allow the Government in power to respond to changes in local and global manpower trends both by adding and/or removing certain categories as the circumstances warrant, Mr. Tibbetts said.
‘Furthermore, this will give Government the ability to implement policy directly and swiftly while alleviating some of the burden that would fall on the boards to deal with applications on a piecemeal basis,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
‘It follows also that this approach will introduce greater certainty in the designation process.’
People who have exempt employee status are not guaranteed permanent residence when they apply.
However, Mr. Tibbetts said that both the employers and employees affected wish to know that once a person has been given exempted status, there is a reasonable opportunity for that person to acquire permanent residence.
‘To some degree, this will depend upon each individual and the extent to which they meet the criteria for a grant [of permanent residence], and in this regard we intend to amend the permanent residence provisions to create a more level playing field for applicants.’
Mr. Tibbetts said it was unrealistic to expect everyone who applies for permanent residence to be successful.
‘But having said that, the Government recognises that there must be a reasonable prospect of obtaining permanent residence for those persons who remain here for eight years or more,’ he said. ‘In other words, the [Permanent Residence] Board must grant permanent residence in sufficient number for there to be any benefit to the Islands of having the exempted employee provision.’
Unless a sufficient number of people applying for permanent residence was successful, Mr. Tibbetts said few employees would see the benefit of being exempted and would likely choose to leave Cayman sooner rather than later.
‘Furthermore, unless there is some meaningful correlation between exempting and acquiring permanent residence, few employers will be able to recruit the calibre of individual needed to fill vacancies in their workforce.’
Mr. Tibbetts said achieving the objectives of the exempt employee provision will not be easy because they have to be balanced against the needs and desires of Caymanians, and what is in their best interest both personally and in the workforce.
‘But it can be done,’ he said. ‘The Government will at all times keep at the forefront of its mind its overriding duty to Caymanians and the need to ensure that they also have a level playing field for job opportunities and upward mobility in the work place.’
Mr. Tibbetts said in closing that it was in the best interests of everyone, including Caymanians – who he said now enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world – that Cayman takes proactive steps to safeguard essential employees in the workforce.
‘And the Government intends to do precisely that,’ he said.