Discrimination non-existent

The Cayman Islands Chief Secretary has denied that immigration officials are discriminating against the dependents of work permit holders from certain foreign countries.

Chief Secretary George McCarthy’s statement came in response to questions from West Bay MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks during Wednesday’s meeting of the Legislative Assembly.

‘It is the public’s perception that some nationalities are given preference in having dependents here,’ Captain Ebanks said.

Dependents are the non-working family members of foreigners who are employed in the Cayman Islands on work permits. They can be spouses, children, parents, grandparents, or siblings.

‘The Immigration Department does not pursue any discriminatory practices,’ Mr. McCarthy said.

There are 2,865 dependents of approximately 20,000-24,000 work permit holders living in Cayman, according to statistics provided by Mr. McCarthy on 20 February.

More than 69 per cent of those dependents come from just four areas of the world: the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Jamaica.

It does appear, according to immigration data, that some nationalities have a higher ratio of dependents living on island than others.

For example, according to immigration records for the end of 2006, there were nearly 11,000 Jamaicans here on work permits. The recent numbers provided by immigration showed 408 Jamaican dependents. The same numbers showed about 2,300 Filipino work permit holders here with 66 dependents.

In contrast, work permit holders from the UK who numbered just over 1,800 at the end of 2006 had some 637 dependents on island this month. United States citizens here on work permits had nearly 500 dependents, in comparison to about 1,500 work permits at the end of 2006.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said the differences exist largely because of economics, not discrimination based on race or nationality.

According to the Immigration Law (2007 Revision) work permit holders must earn a salary of at least $3,000 per month ($36,000 per year) before they are legally allowed to add a dependent to their work permit. For each additional dependent, another $500 in salary per month is required.

If both parents are working and married, their combined salaries can be used to calculate how many dependents can be brought here. Non-married couples cannot combine their salaries, under the Immigration Law.

For example, a male worker wishing to bring his non-working wife and two children to the island would have to make a minimum of $4,000 per month ($48,000 per year) to do so.

‘Because there is a means test…the majority of requests that we get are from people with a high earning power,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘Right now, those people are coming from Europe, the United States, and the UK.’

‘Those who have a lesser earning power do not normally apply for their dependents because they are well aware they’re not able to support them while they’re here,’ he said.

If the custody of the child is not immediately apparent, in the case of a foster child or legal guardian, proof of legal custody is required. Also, school age children of work permit holders are required to attend private school. Non-Caymanian children are not allowed to attend Cayman Islands public schools.

Mr. Manderson has previously said he believes estimates of 2,600 to 2,800 dependents living in Cayman were too low, and that there were likely many more on island. He noted Wednesday that counting only those people living here with work permit holders likely doesn’t provide a complete picture.

‘Perhaps a more accurate figure would be given if we included dependents who are here on employment rights certificates (given to spouses of Caymanians), dependents who are here on student visas, or with persons who have permanent residence,’ Mr. Manderson said.