The government is considering a national quota system for the hiring of foreign workers in the Cayman Islands.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson told a group of tourism industry professionals about the proposals last week at the Marriott Beach Resort.
‘The way that we have been trying to balance the work force is obviously not working,’ he said.
During his speech to the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, Mr. Manderson said there were approximately 25,800 active work permits, including temporary permits and government contracts, held by foreigners in Cayman. He estimated some 11,000 of those permits or contracts were held by Jamaicans, another 2,900 by Filipinos, and about 2,000 by citizens of the United Kingdom.
The majority of work permit or contract holders in Cayman come from just seven areas; Jamaica, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Honduras and India. Workers from the rest of the world’s countries make up less than one-fifth of all the work permits held in Cayman.
Mr. Manderson said that, previously, immigration officials and regulatory board members have tried to even out demographics in the work force by policing the hiring within various companies. For instance, if Romanian nationals occupied 90 per cent of the jobs at a particular business that company would be encouraged to hire people who were not from Eastern Europe.
The problem is, not that many Romanians hold work permits in the Cayman Islands. So the total number of people from Romania working here would be very low from a national perspective.
‘We’re now looking at whether we should be doing (quotas) on a national basis,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘But it’s going to take a change in policy.’
His intention is to form a working group to study the issue, but admittedly the Immigration Department still has to implement a slew of new measures, including a pre-qualification system for companies seeking work permits.
‘We’re not close (to implementing a quota system,’ Mr. Manderson said.
However, he noted it is an issue that the islands should be considering seriously as they look at demographic changes over the next five to ten years.
Recently, work permits held by citizens of the Philippines and India in particular have shot up, while Jamaican numbers have stayed about the same.
‘We have 11,000 Jamaicans now, but what happens if we have 10,000 Filipinos and 6,00 Indians,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘The whole Cayman Islands as we know it will change.’
‘I’m not saying any of those things are bad. I’m just saying we need to be prepared and have some kind of consensus and policy that tells us where we need to be going with our demographics.’
Talk of national hiring quotas got a mixed reception among tourism professionals at the luncheon. Former Cayman Islands Tourism Association Executive Director Ken Thompson wondered what would happen to English-speaking requirements in Cayman Islands Immigration Law if there was more of a push to hire individuals from non-English speaking countries.
‘We’re putting ourselves in a very difficult position trying to provide services for our customers,’ said Mr. Thompson, who now serves as general Manager for Comfort Suites hotel.
Mr. Manderson said any policy that is made can’t set arbitrary limits on either total numbers of workers from a certain country, or the types of jobs which can be held. Some flexibility would be required.
‘(If) we’re only going to be issuing 1,000 domestic helper work permits this year, when you do that people may need other means of getting access to helpers,’ he said. ‘It’s not an easy thing.’
He said he expects accusations of xenophobia and discrimination while government goes through the consideration process, but denies that is the goal of any proposed hiring quota.
‘We’re talking about ensuring a proper balance in our workforce,’ Mr. Manderson said.