Indigenous Caymanians could number 15,000 or less, in the estimation of Chairman of the Immigration Board David Ritch.
Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin agreed at the Cabinet press briefing on Friday when asked if he thought Mr. Ritch’s estimate was close.
‘Keeping in mind that we’re all guessing here, I think (the number of indigenous Caymanians) would be between 15,000 and 20,000,’ he said.
When contacted on Saturday, Mr. Ritch said that in any discussion about indigenous Caymanians, it was important to set the benchmark of what is meant by the term indigenous.
‘My answer to the question is that someone would have to show at least one grandparent that is born in Cayman,’ he said, adding that it would mean a person had family history here of at least three generations.
However, because many Caymanians have married people from other countries and then had children, the issue of who is an indigenous Caymanian is clouded.
‘It becomes such a difficult discussion,’ Mr. Ritch said.
‘My family, for instance, goes back to the 1800s in Cayman Brac. But I married an American and my children are both Caymanian and US citizens.’
Mr. Ritch questioned the relevance to the discussion of who is indigenous and who is non-indigenous here.
‘We’ve got to get beyond that,’ he said. ‘While it is interesting to stick a pin in a number and say ‘this is how many people are indigenous’, we have moved some distance away from that (because of the inter-marrying of Caymanians to foreign nationals).’
Mr. Ritch said the 15,000 number was probably ‘generous’, and that the number could be considerably less.
Using estimated ballpark figures, Mr. Ritch said there were about 22,000 foreigners on work permits in Cayman. He figured there were approximately 6,000 dependents with those work permit holders, giving a number of 28,000.
Subtracting that figure from an estimated population of 52,000 would leave about 24,000 people.
Then subtracting those with permanent residence, which he roughly estimated at another 1,000 people, would leave about 23,000 people who were Caymanian.
The people granted Caymanian Status by whatever means over the past 30 years would then be subtracted from the 23,000 Caymanians to arrive at the number of indigenous Caymanians in the population.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said close to 6,000 people received Caymanians Status in the period between April 2004 and October 2005 alone.
‘Now you see why I said (the 15,000 number) is probably generous,’ Mr. Ritch said.
Taking into consideration Caymanians who were born to mixed-nationality parents, Mr. Ritch said there might be only 8,000 – 10,000 people who could truly say they were indigenous.
The fact that challenges are arising because of the predominance of expatriate workers does not surprise Mr. Ritch.
‘I don’t know of any country that imports as much labour as a percentage of the population as Cayman does,’ he said. ‘And there doesn’t appear to be any let up for the demand for labour.’
Mr. Ritch said Cayman had become ‘an accidental social experiment.’
The possible social problems of importing so much labour should have been discussed from 1980 at the latest, he said.
‘Then the population would have involved 20,000 people and not the 52,000 to 60,000 it is now.’
Mr. Ritch agrees the seven-year rollover policy should be tried.
‘Any approach you take to this problem can only be a best guess approach,’ he said. ‘But you have to do something. You can’t just sit down and do nothing.
‘We have to do this, simply because the consequences of not doing something are going to be severe.’
If it turns out that the effects of the rollover policy are too harsh on the economy, the government could revisit the issue in the future, he said.
‘If faced with the choice between basic economic survival and dilution (of the Cayman population), I would choose dilution.’