The Immigration Department has noted a significant number of foreign workers who left the islands after reaching their seven-year term limit on residence are now returning to Cayman.
The law requires those individuals who have reached their term limit and who have been rolled over, as it is often called, to spend at least one year away from the Cayman Islands, barring exceptional circumstances. But following that time nothing precludes them from finding new jobs back on-island.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson didn’t want to give specific numbers, but he estimated there were easily ‘hundreds of people’ who had come back.
‘Almost on every agenda that we deal with, whether it’s temporary work permits or annual work permits, there are at least one or two persons who are returning now,’ he said.
Mr. Manderson said it will be the policy of immigration staffers, who handle many routine work permit applications, to give preference to the rollover returnees over new permit applicants.
‘We know those persons,’ he said. ‘They’ve been with us for seven years, so it would make sense to give that person priority over someone who had never been on the Island before. Why not give them some preference?’
Mr. Manderson stressed that there were no cases where a jobseeker who had been rolled over after seven years would be given preference over a qualified Caymanian or permanent residence-holder that had applied for any post. Cases where a work permit applicant has been selected for a job over a qualified local applicant would normally be processed by the Work Permit Board or Business Staffing Plan Board and not by an immigration officer.
The Immigration Department handles only items like work permit renewals or new applications where no local applicant had sought the job being offered.
‘Certainly the instructions that I’ve given to the immigration staff who are dealing with the administrative processes is that they should be looking at giving preference to persons who have been rolled over and are now returning,’ he said.
The reason for the number of rollover returnees of late is mostly due to timing.
When Cayman’s Immigration Law was first revised to include a term limit provision on foreign workers’ residence in late 2003, people who had been working here for five years or longer were given a chance to stay long enough to apply for permanent residence. Permanent residence is the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life, but does not carry the same legal standing as being a Caymanian or having Caymanian Status.
So when the term limits section of the law took effect, many longer-term expatriate workers applied to get their residence. In some cases those applications took years to be heard, and in any case, a foreign worker who had been here less than five years as of 1 January 2004, wouldn’t have reached their term limit until late 2006 or early 2007.
Further changes to the Immigration Law in late 2006 reduced the period that foreign workers who had reached their term limit needed to wait before applying for another permit from two years to one year. So those workers who had been rolled over in 2007 were free to return starting in 2008.
Mr. Manderson said that appears to be what’s happening now.
He said most of the returning workers so far have been in non-skilled professions, such as domestic helpers. However, some skilled professionals have returned as well.
According to the most recent Immigration Department figures, Mr. Manderson said the vast majority of work permit holders do not stay in Cayman for seven years. The average length of stay for foreign workers is just over four years.