Although there will be public consultation on the awaited amendments to the Immigration Law, what will not be up for discussion is abandoning the rollover policy.
This was the message from the People’s Progressive Movement at their national council meeting at John A. Cumber Primary School hall in West Bay Monday evening.
‘Either Cayman sticks with some form of rollover or in five years other people will be in control of this country,’ said Minister for Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports and Culture, Alden McLaughlin.
Ultimately, the rollover policy and the seven year term limit mean that employees on work permits that have been here that length of time are ‘rolled over’, must leave, and cannot return to these islands to work for two years, unless designated an exempted employee.
Among the areas of the legislation that are currently being amended are the provisions for exempted persons and permanent residency, said Mr. McLaughlin.
The Immigration Law and its rollover policy came into effect on 1 January 2004. Mr. McLaughlin stressed that the new law was not implemented by this government, although the PPM supports limited term work permits.
Noting that the whole question of rollover is problematic, Mr. McLaughlin said that Cayman is and has been in a very difficult situation because it is incapable of producing enough of its own people for the workforce.
Back in 1978 when he left school the population was at just 16,000, he said. Now that figure is over 50,000.
Although this growth in population has brought tremendous success and prosperity, it has also brought problems with the level of growth.
‘The government understands that there’s a growing resentment among our own people about feeling overwhelmed in their own country,’ he said.
Radio talk show callers complain about foreigners coming here and trying to impose their own cultures, he said.
‘We chose to have that growth but we have to strike a balance and find a means to reduce the numbers of people living here long-term,’ he said.
Mr. McLaughlin warned that if this does not happen, the number of those born here will be outstripped by those that have not, in a matter of a few years.
He challenged anyone to tell him that this fact was not a recipe for disaster.
Mr. McLaughlin expanded that the immigration policy is not one that says ‘We don’t want foreigners here’. Rather, he said, exemption can allow certain people to stay for extended periods.
Defending Cayman’s record of embracing other nationalities, he said, ‘This little country has welcomed people from all over the world.’
He added, ‘If what has happened in Cayman had happened anywhere else in the world you would not have the social harmony we have here’.
Mr. McLaughlin commented that what people tend to forget is that the country had its own culture and ways before it became an economic success.
‘It is precisely because of these things that people wanted to come here in the first place,’ he said.
Mr. McLaughlin said that if those who came here from elsewhere were simply allowed to tell Caymanians what to do, it would deem everything their forefathers did before them as worthless.
But amongst all of this, he said, the economy is critical, and, so, the exercise of amending the law over the last 10 months has been to find a way for the economy to continue to work and thrive.
Mr. McLaughlin said he expected a draft bill of the amendments to be out for circulation in about two weeks’ time.
Because of this, he said, he would not go into detail on the draft legislation.
Mr. McLaughlin received applause throughout various parts of his speech on the immigration policy.
In a following question and answer session, the question of implementing a minimum wage came up.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the PPM has, on many occasions, discussed this informally. But they have not developed any policy to move forward on this issue, he said.
One member of the public commented that because business owners look to cheap labour, the immigration problem is worsened. He advised the PPM to put a minimum wage in each sector to suit the various jobs/professions in each.
Mr. Tibbetts said they would certainly consider his point.
Another question from the floor was whether those persons of Caymanian descent, living here for around 20 years, will be entitled to status under this immigration review.
Mr. Tibbetts said that there is an inherent advantage to getting permanent residency with that type of connection. He said under the current law, if this category of person is here 20 years and once there is no impediment or just reason to be refused, PR is almost automatic, and this is a stepping stone to Cayman status.
In response to a question on whether the PPM is prepared to stymie development, Mr. McLaughlin said the answer must be no because those consequences would be grave.
‘No-one wants a lower standard of lifestyle,’ he said, explaining that continued development and immigration are all a part of the price.