Rollover numbers unknown

Cayman Islands Government officials do not maintain statistics that show how many foreign workers have been subjected to the seven-year term limit on residency, a policy contained in the country’s Immigration Law.

Franz Manderson

Franz Manderson

The policy, which took effect on 1 January, 2004, requires all foreign nationals who work in Cayman to depart after seven consecutive years on Island. Those individuals must leave for at least 12 months unless they have obtained certain immigration status under the law that allows them to stay.

Such status might include a key employee designation by their employer, which allows individuals to stay a further two years if agreed to by the appropriate immigration board. If the individual had married a Caymanian, they would also be allowed to remain.

The Caymanian Compass requested records for the total number of people who have been subjected to the term limit, or ‘rolled over’ as it is often called, since the policy took effect in 2004. The request was made under the Freedom of Information Law (2007).

In response, immigration officials opined that neither their department, nor any other holds those records.

‘Our computer system does not allow us to provide date track information for a given period of time, and as such, it cannot be determined who may or may not have been affected by the rollover policy,’ a letter sent from the Immigration Department read.

‘We are unable to determine the number of persons that have been affected by the rollover policy.’

Deputy Chief Secretary Franz Manderson, who oversees the Immigration Department, said it would be virtually impossible to keep track of the number of private sector employees who have been rolled over.

The Immigration Department does keep files on every foreign worker that enters and resides in the Islands. Those records are kept for a certain period of time and presumably the Immigration Department could search each individual file.

However, Mr. Manderson said simply looking at someone’s immigration file wouldn’t necessarily help determine why they left the Islands.

‘For an example – you are listed in the immigration computer system as a resident with a work permit and you are subject to a term limit of seven years,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘Your employer decides not to apply for you to become a key employee and you leave the Island at year six instead of at the end of year seven. We cannot determine by stats whether you have been rolled over.

‘Any stats in this area will not be accurate and will not represent the true picture, unless…we run a report on every work permit holder that has left the Island and contact each one to find out why they left.’

Such an undertaking by the Immigration Department might prove to be unreasonable under the Freedom of Information Law. The law allows public authorities to ignore requests if those matters could be considered to ‘unreasonably divert’ the department’s resources.

According to Mr. Manderson, hundreds of people have also chosen to return to work in Cayman a year or so after they had reached their term limit. However, immigration officials have previously said that most foreign workers end up staying here just more than four years on average – well before they would be rolled over under the law.

Shortly after being elected, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush announced that his government would be undertaking a wholesale review of the country’s Immigration Law, in part to determine what effect the seven-year term limit policy was having.

The Immigration Task Force put together by Mr. Bush started its work last month.