Change coming

Immigration staff will OK work permits

Cayman Islands government is planning legal changes that will allow Immigration Department staff, as opposed to the island’s various immigration-related boards, to rule on many work permits.

The Work Permit Board, along with the Business Staffing Plan Board and Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, will remain in place to handle more difficult cases particularly those which are sensitive, such as applications for key employee status. Only the more routine or straightforward applications would be handled by immigration staff.

The Legislative Assembly is expected to vote on the changes in February.

The move has often been discussed in the past, and was suggested as early as 1998 in a report dubbed Vision 2008. More recently Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson has expressed a desire to move away from appointed boards of volunteers, which he has said simply can’t keep up with the workload.

Mr. Manderson said the Work Permit Board, which meets twice a week for a full day, can handle about 300 cases a week. He believes trained Immigration staffers can handle twice that number.

The goal is to cut the time it takes government to process a work permit down to about 14 days.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said a massive increase in the number of work permits being processed in Cayman is part of the reason for the changes.

In 1994, Mr. Tibbetts said Cayman had 6,400 work permits in force. Ten years later that number had jumped to 19,004, nearly a three-fold increase. More than 24,000 work permits are held in the Cayman Islands today.

‘Adding more boards and more employees is no longer the answer,’ Mr. Tibbetts said Thursday during a Cabinet press briefing.

‘We are confident (the new system) will significantly reduce the number of work permit applications going before the Work Permit Board and Business Staffing Plan Board, and will consequently reduce the turnaround time on applications,’ he said, ‘a result that would no doubt be well-received by the business community.’

Precisely what criteria the government will use in determining straightforward work permit applications, and those that are considered more sensitive, is still to be determined.

Mr. Manderson used an example of an application where one foreign national had applied for a job that no one else had applied for, vs. another position that six Caymanians had applied for that was eventually given to an expatriate on a work permit. Obviously, he said the latter case would be more controversial.

But the latter case happens much less frequently, Mr. Manderson added.

‘Out of 100 work permit applications, there’s only about 10 that cause a lot of debate,’ he said. ‘Do we need eight people to decide why the Ritz-Carlton needs a chef?’

If an application is refused by an immigration staffer for whatever reason, Mr. Manderson said the plan would be to draft a letter explaining that decision the same day and send it out to the business concerned the following day.

‘You will never have a situation where you have to wait five days or two weeks for a letter to be drafted,’ he said.

Mr. Manderson also said an audit system would be put into place to identify situations where work permit applications were not being dealt with properly.

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