Sustainable development sought

Changes proposed for Cayman Islands’ immigration policies last week are being made with an eye toward ensuring the country’s development is more sustainable in the long term, according to government leaders.

If the Legislative Assembly approves the changes, Immigration Department employees will end up handling the majority of work permit applications, as opposed to various appointed boards which handle those cases now.

Businesses will also face a more stringent pre-qualification process before being allowed to apply for work permits. Essentially, the government wants to determine if the companies are following pension and health care regulations, and are up to date on their licensing requirements.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the changes are just the latest in a series of efforts over the last few years aimed at managing the island’s growth, while attempting to sustain its economy.

‘Had it been done a few years ago, it would’ve been much less painful than it was this time around,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

‘A lot of us have concerns about the impact of all this growth — on the social structure of the country and on the infrastructure of the country,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin added. ‘One of the realities of Cayman is the economy is primarily based on development and growth. I don’t see any end in sight.’

‘The minute things even start to slow down, there’s screams from every aspect of it; from the retailers, from the supermarket people, from the tourism people, from the construction people. Even now, with things rolling along as they are, you hear whispers about ‘well, I don’t know how we’re going to find enough people to fill all these apartments.”

It’s the chicken-and-egg problem facing leaders. They have to allow enough foreign workers into the country because there are simply not enough permanent residents to support the island’s economy. But they have to control that flow of workers; partly because of infrastructure concerns, and partly because of politics.

‘If we simply operate on the premise that the population of Cayman is going to stay at 55,000 or whatever it is now; you think traffic jams are bad now? You think the problems with school facilities are bad now? Give us another five years of this growth,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

‘The system…is there to harm no one,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘We feel an obligation to control the growth of the permanent population of the Cayman Islands so that Caymanians are not overwhelmed overnight.’

‘If (work permit holders) wish to become part of that permanent population, there’s a means by which they can do that. It can happen.’

A recent review by the Caymanian Compass found close to 30,000 foreigners living in Cayman including work permit holders, their dependents, permanent residents, or expatriates here on government contracts.

Local immigration experts thought the numbers of expatriates may be even higher due to undercounting of dependents, and an unknown number of people who are working here without a permit as an operation of law. Those working without a permit are allowed to do so if they are awaiting a decision on permanent residency applications.

Assuming the population of the Cayman Islands is now around 55,000 people those with Caymanian status or citizenship would appear to make up well less than half of those who call Cayman home.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mr. Tibbetts said he did not agree with the premise that the country’s labour issues could be solved by simply ‘making more Caymanians’ — in other words, granting a lot more people status or permanent residency rights.

‘This is not the United States of America,’ he said. ‘We don’t have 350 million people. This country is a very small country and it cannot take the load — without creating all kinds of dissention, all kinds of social stress; all kinds of things that are going to cause the exact opposite of what attracts people here.’

Mr. McLaughlin said he believes work permit numbers will continue to grow in years to come, but he said fewer people would get through the filter of the seven year term limit on residency for expatriate workers.

‘Unless we alter — the premise on which our economy is based, development and growth is the means that keeps us vibrant, that keeps us prosperous,’ he said. ‘We just have to do our best — to try and make sure we maintain harmony and social justice.’

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