Changes proposed to Cayman Islands Immigration Law last week aim to cut down on the number of temporary work permits issued to businesses.
In theory, temporary six-month or three-month work permits are supposed to be issued only to short-term workers such as lawyers coming here to handle a specific court case, or an independent auditor hired to review a government department.
However, in recent years those temporary permits have morphed into a stop-gap measure, which allows employers to bring workers here quickly while their companies wait on the outcome of one year work permit applications to the Work Permit Board.
‘Currently, some 70-80 per cent of temporary work permits turn into annual work permits because employers are not able or willing to wait the five to seven weeks for an annual work permit grant application to be processed,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said last week.
Paperwork requirements for temporary work permits are far less than those needed for a full year permit. Temporary permits are also much less expensive.
Mr. Tibbetts said letting immigration staff handle more routine applications for work permits, as the law will propose, should speed up the process and allow temporary permits to be used as they were initially intended. Right now, all one year permits must be approved by the board.
Both Immigration Department officials and elected leaders have pushed for the change since last year, claiming the current system had broken down.
The Cayman Islands Society for Human Resource Professionals applauded the plan, which is expected to come before the Legislative Assembly in February.
‘I think it certainly sounds like they’re going in the right direction,’ society President Stacey VanDevelde said. ‘It’s much better than where we are now. I just hope they’re sufficiently staffed to cope with this.’
In addition to speeding up the time it takes to bring foreign workers to the island, Mrs. VanDevelde said temporary six-month work permits are often used as a test-period for new employees. But she said changes in the law shouldn’t affect companies applying for one year permits.
‘Even if you’ve got a full year permit, you can still cancel it and ask immigration to refund you six months of it,’ she said.
In practice, Mrs. VanDevelde said it may be easier for companies to let go of workers by blaming it on the work permit process, but she said such issues can be dealt with through the provision of a probationary period in the employment contract.
‘(The company) could say ‘sorry – we don’t have a valid permit, we’re not going to renew,’ maybe without directly addressing the issue,’ she said. ‘But I think there would be other means of coping with that.’
The government is also negotiating with the tourism industry on the use of temporary permits for seasonal workers, such as hotel service staff and other jobs generally considered to be more transient in nature.
Mr. Tibbetts said a separate work permit scheme for those seasonal workers is being considered, but details have not been finalised.