Immigration changes afoot

New policy directives concerning immigration will allow for three-to-five-year work permits for some workers and the presumption that senior professionals automatically meet key employee requirements.

Speaking at a Cabinet press briefing on Wednesday, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said directions were to be issued to the Chief Immigration Officer, the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board on three proposals that were agreed upon by Cabinet this week.

One of the directions involves a new committee attached to the Business Staffing Plan Board.

‘The chairman of the Business Staffing Plan Board will be required to create a committee comprising members with expertise in the financial services sector,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘This committee, which will be assisted by three work permit administrators from the Immigration Department, will process all applications for work permits from financial services sector companies.’

Mr. Bush said the committee would also make recommendations to the Business Staffing Plan Board on key employee applications.

‘The dedicated focus on financial services industry applications by this committee will greatly improve the turnaround time for work permit applications and the fact that local industry experts are included in the committee will ensure that key employee applications are properly understood and dealt with.’

Another directive will deal with key employee designations made for senior professionals. There will be a presumption that the applicant meets the key employee requirements contained in the Immigration Law unless this can be rebutted, or where there is a Caymanian who has the qualifications, experience and desire to fill the position in the opinion of the Business Staffing Plan Board.

A large segment of work permit holders will also be able to get longer permits, Mr. Bush said.

‘It will become the norm to issue three-year work permits for all persons in particular financial services occupations, and three-to-five year work permits for domestic helpers, teachers, nurses, ministers of religion and workers listed in a Business Staffing Plan Certificate.’

Mr. Bush said the benefits would only be available to employers who received accreditation based on a high standard of business ethics and commitment to providing opportunities to the country and Caymanians through employment, education or involvement in community service programmes.

‘Only those companies, which meet a pre-set threshold, will be able be accredited and thereby receive the benefits I just outlined.’

Mr. Bush said the changes were necessary for Cayman to remain a competitive jurisdiction.

‘It is no secret that financial services industry companies have left Cayman for other jurisdictions,’ he said. ‘We know that has happened with several major companies.

He said jobs had moved to Halifax and Ireland and other places, which had a trickle-down effect on the economy here because those people were no longer spending money in the restaurants or other stores.

Mr. Bush said part of the reason jobs were leaving was the ‘burdensome nature of the work permit process and lack of certainty that exists with respect to the key employee designation.

Mr. Bush said he believed that in some circumstances it was important to give an expatriate a job even if it meant a Caymanian losing a job.

‘If one Caymanian loses a job because we have to bring in one or two or three [expatriates], but because of that 10 other Caymanians get a job, I think that’s something we should do,’ he said, adding that the government’s challenge would be to see that the one Caymanian who lost a job found another one.