Three-quarters of all applications for key employee status by foreign workers were granted between August 2007 and April 2008, according to Cayman Islands Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson.
A key employee designation allows a work permit holder to stay two years beyond the seven-year term limit on residency now imposed for foreign workers in Cayman. That extra time allows those workers to remain here long enough to apply for permanent residency, the right to live in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
Businesses decide which workers they will put forward as key employees, but those applications must be granted by Cayman’s Business Staffing Plan Board before taking effect.
Mr. Manderson revealed some surprising statistics surrounding Cayman’s oft-debated immigration policies last week during a luncheon hosted by the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman for the Cayman Islands Society of Professional Accountants.
In addition to the key employee approvals, the Chief Immigration Officer said the number of work permit holders who are employed in the professional occupations categories have increased by 49 per cent since the term limit policy was first implemented in 2004.
For example, in one professional category, accountants; Mr. Manderson said some 365 people held permits in 2004. Today, he said there were more than 700 accountants here on work permits.
‘It’s clear…we have not suffered the predicted loss of professionals,’ he said. ‘In fact, quite the opposite has occurred.’
Mr. Manderson said the island remains heavily dependent upon foreign labour, and estimated some 24,000 work permit holders now reside here, out of a population of around 55,000.
‘The reliance on overseas workers is clear,’ he said.
He noted there were slightly more than 2,000 applications for permanent residency still pending before the Permanent Residency and Caymanian Status Board and that the board was hearing those applications at the rate of about 50 per week.
‘It’ll certainly take us well over a year to deal with all the applications,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘That is unacceptable. I know that the chairman is anxious to get this matter resolved. Some persons have been waiting as long as three and a half, four years on their results.’
However, he noted that permanent residence applications generally take longer because the boards don’t want to make an irrevocable mistake. Work permit applications are generally reviewed every one or two years.
Proposals that would allow Immigration Department staffers to handle more routine, non-controversial work permit applications and renewals were expected to go to Cabinet members within the next two weeks. Mr. Manderson said allowing staff to process routine applications would free up time for the Work Permit Board to focus on more difficult cases.
He said the immigration department hoped to cut down the time for processing work permit applications from the current three months to just 14 days.
Cayman’s immigration policy remains under review, and Mr. Manderson identified some other areas where changes would be considered. For instance, he said immigration did not want to require senior partners from overseas firms to get a temporary work permit in order to come here for a business meeting.
Changes to the Immigration Law were also expected to include a system of pre-qualification for employers, to ensure they are meeting all pension and health care requirements before being granted work permits. A temporary work permit system for seasonal workers will also be introduced to allow those employees, who mainly work in the hospitality industry, to be granted eight month work permits.