Clarifying Immigration debate issues

There have been many thoughtful letters lately dealing with the seven-year rollover, exemptions and permanent residence.

The purpose of this letter is to sharpen the focus of the discussion without engaging in destructive and divisive dialogue, which has been emerging.

In my opinion, there are three issues:

What level of economic activity is desirable on these Islands?

Whom do Caymanians want to join them in nation building?

What is the interaction, if any, between the first two issues?

The number of work permits at any given time is the result, mainly, of the level of economic activity in the Islands. The current level of economic activity is perceived by many Caymanians and expats alike to be too high; there is consensus on this.

Unfortunately, the current level of economic activity is the result of decisions, or lack of decisive action, in the past and there is no going back; some examples are the decision to open up Cayman’s land base to the world, the decision not to impose income tax or withholding tax, the decision in 2003 to give status to a large number of individuals and the decision to allow buildings to go to seven stories on Seven Mile Beach and now in George Town.

If you have a hotel that requires 1,000 people to provide services to the guests and to service the facilities, you are going to have to hire 1,000 people to work there. To the extent that those hires are not Caymanians, they are going to be expats; this will not be affected by the seven-year rollover.

If you allow more and more seven-storey condo complexes and office buildings to be built, you are going to need people to provide services to the people who are going to live there or work there. In other words, the number of work permits is going to increase along with the increased level of economic activity; this will not be affected by the seven-year rollover policy.

To the extent that you decide to encourage more and more tourism, you are going to have to hire persons to provide services and build facilities for such tourists. Once again, the number of work permits is going to increase along with the level of economic activity in the Islands; this will not be affected by the seven-year rollover.

Therefore, the seven-year rollover does not provide an answer to the issue of ‘what level of economic activity is desirable on these islands?’ To the extent that increased economic activity is encouraged by decisions made in the past, or being made currently, the number of work permits is going to increase.

To the extent that this is undesirable, as it seems to be to a lot of people, some tough decisions can be made, as follows: (a) instruct the Central Planning Authority to limit further development; (b) instruct the Trade and Business Licensing Board to restrict the number of licences for new businesses where the is already an abundance; (c) make land in certain parts of the Island unavailable to non-Caymanians; or (d) put a stop to the construction of seven-storey buildings.

Whom do Caymanians want to join them in nation building?

This is the key question, the answer to which is being played out today in the seven-year rollover, exemptions and applications for permanent residence with the right to work (in short, Permanent Residence). The key to the answer is for Government to have a clear polity; this has not yet emerged.

I am not criticizing the current Government. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the UDP, by the granting of status to some 2,500 people in 2003, circumvented its own immigration legislation, which called for an orderly process of applications for Permanent Residency. The current government is faced with unpalatable necessity, in its own minds and in the minds of its supporters, to refuse Permanent Residence to the overwhelming majority of applicants.

The European Convention on Nationality, 1997 defines nationality as the legal bond between a person and a state and says that after 10 years of residence in the state, the person should be able to acquire nationality. Although this Convention has not been ratified by the United Kingdom, it must have affected the decision to choose the seven-year rollover.

Every decision has intended and unintended consequences. Without dwelling too long on the unintended consequences, replacing persons who want to belong and in the past have had the opportunity to do so with persons who know that they are temporary may have some unfortunate unintended consequences.

Sections 47 of the current Immigration Law provides the opportunity for an employer to nominate a worker or a prospective worker to be an exempted employee on the basis of fulfilling one or more of the stated criteria. All that an exemption does, if granted, is allow the employee to reside for another year when he or she can apply for Permanent Residence.

The granting of exemptions has no clarity and is, in my opinion, undemocratic. What democracy demands is for all persons who have resided in the Islands for seven years to be able, if they wish to do so, to apply for Permanent Residence. There is no logical reason why the criteria for exempting a worker cannot be made part of the point system for granting Permanent Residence.

Currently, caused in large part by the past mass status grants, Caymanians are of the view they don’t want any more expats, or very few, to help them build their nation. The logical conclusion from this is that the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board should refuse most, if not all, applications for Permanent Residence.

The Government has to make a policy decision as to the percentage of applications to be granted by the Board; this policy decision should be publicized so that every potential applicant knows the rules of the game. The decision to apply will be affected by the percentage being granted. The current situation is unfair to the applicants who have made certain investments, a lot of the lulled into a false sense by being exempted.

What is the interaction, if any, between the first two issues?

If the policy decision of the Government is that the majority of applications for Permanent Residence will be turned down, this will have a dampening effect on the level of economic activity. First, there will be a lot more houses and cars for sale and fewer buyers. Second, in those businesses where the failed applicants worked, and must be replaced, to the extent that there are no Caymanians as available replacements, the level of customer service inevitably will decline as the experienced are being replaced with the opposite.

Third, to the extent that people who want to belong and build are replaced with temporary people who resign themselves to being rolled over, investment in the community, whether financial or emotional, will suffer.

Fourthly, and most unfortunately, the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ will grow as the ‘them’ cannot become part of ‘us’.

The current situation is unique in that the 2003 mass status grants distorted what would be by now an orderly, though unpleasant process, of telling valuable and hard-working people that they are not wanted in the task of nation building.

Paul Simon

Comments are closed.