Businesses back immigration changes

A broad cross-section of 157 companies across the Cayman Islands generally supported an immigration department pre-qualification system for employers, according to survey results obtained by the Caymanian Compass.

The pre-qualification system was given preliminary approval by Cabinet last month. It aims to set up a rating system for employers that places companies in different tiers of compliance based on whether they meet all their legal obligations, are training Caymanians, are participating in community programmes, and are treating employees fairly, among other criteria.

The 10-question survey was sent out by e-mail in late 2008 to members of various business associations including the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Contractors Association, the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals, and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

It identified several areas where those businesses strongly supported proposed immigration changes, and some areas where they were uncertain.

Question three of the survey was: ‘What is your opinion of a pre-qualification system that provides businesses with benefits (rewards) for compliance and punishes businesses for non-compliance?’

More than three-quarters of the 157 businesses surveyed said they agreed and supported such a system. Fourteen per cent of the respondents said they were sceptical; nine percent did not support such a system.

Government officials are now presenting details of the Immigration Accreditation System, as it is called, to various employers around the Islands and hope to present the system back to Cabinet for final approval, possibly in the spring.

Question four of the survey asked companies to check all options they believed should form the core criteria for the new pre-qualification system.

More than 90 per cent of respondents agreed that companies should comply with legal requirements such as employee health care coverage, pensions, business licensing, and immigration/work permit rules. However, legal requirements that companies register with Cayman’s Department of Employment Relations met with a less favourable response.

Only 52 per cent of those surveyed thought DER registration should be required to become accredited under the new system.

The majority of those who responded to the survey said their work permits were being heard before the Business Staffing Plan Board rather than the Work Permit Board, indicating that the larger companies on island responded in greater number to the internet queries.

The survey was contained in a report submitted by the task force that created the Immigration Accreditation System. The task force proposed a detailed, six-tier point system by which the Immigration Department would accredit companies.

The first tier, called probationary accreditation, would only last for six months under the proposal. The companies would have to submit proof of a trade and business licence, as well as proof they had complied with the National Pensions Law, the Health Insurance Law, the Immigration Law, and provide evidence of business contracts as well as viable business operations. A total of 350 points would be awarded under the system if all those measures were met.

Further points would be awarded for talent development programmes within businesses, fair employment practices, support of community programmes, and Caymanian business ownership.

The lowest tier, 350 points, would only allow companies to process work permit renewals. The highest tier, tier five, guarantees approval of a certain number of work permits and key employee applications for the company, as well as providing other incentives.

Fees proposed under the accreditation system are as follows: $50 for the application; $250 upon receiving accreditation; $150 for accreditation renewals; and $300 for application reconsideration if accreditation has been turned down.

Fines may also be levied for failure to comply with the accreditation/pre-qualification system, but those have yet to be determined.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson has said nothing is set in stone, and that input from the private sector is being sought.