Business sector reacts to permit hikes

Work permit fees for expatriate employees living in the Cayman Islands will, in some cases, more than triple starting today.

The Cayman Islands Government revealed the new schedule of work permit fees last week.

The vast majority of work permit fees charged to foreign workers in Cayman have gone up in the new schedule contained under the Immigration (Amendment) Regulations, 2010. A handful of job categories will see fees stay the same or even see their permit fees go down.

Cayman Finance Chairman Anthony Travers, whose group helped government draft revenue measures in the current budget, said it is important to put the increased work permit fees in proper context.

‘In Europe and the US tax rates are rising inexorably with no relief in sight,’ Mr. Travers said. ‘Cayman Finance believes that the permit increases are an appropriate measure to deal with a short-term funding issue.’

However, Mr. Travers made it clear that the finance industry expects something in return for the increased work permit charges.

‘Where the system has failed the financial industry is not in relation to the cost of the permit, but in relation to the speed and certainty of obtaining the permit,’ he said. ‘Businesses, particularly offshore business, can adjust to cost if there is certainty.

‘What Cayman cannot now afford is the continuance of a system under which work permits are expensive and yet unobtainable or unobtainable for a period of time.’

Cayman’s beleaguered tourism industry officials said they aren’t sure if they can adjust to rising permit fees.

‘Businesses cannot afford any increases in operational costs,’ Cayman Islands Tourism Association President Steve Broadbelt said. ‘Increases in (import) duty, work permit fees, and a tax on leases will damage and contract our economy.’

Both the tourism and finance industry representatives agreed on one thing: the Cayman Islands Government must cut back its expenses, and do it soon.

‘All businesses have had to cut back expenses by 20 per cent or more and government needs to do the same,’ Mr. Broadbelt said. ‘We cannot afford to sustain such a massive civil service and we urge the elected government to take bold and unpopular actions before we become like many of our neighbouring island states.’

Mr. Travers even indicated that the work permit fee increases need not be made permanent.

‘When (the Cayman Islands Government) makes the essential cuts to its expenditure, obviously the work permit fees can be reviewed in light of competition from other jurisdictions,’ he said. ‘But one thing at a time.’

The permit fee increases range from $60 extra per year for attendants in the tourism industry – to a nearly $8,000 per year hike for trust officers and administrators.

Some professions saw across-the-board permit fee rises under the new scheme, regardless of the industry their jobs were in.

For instance, all secretaries’ work permit costs more than tripled under the new fee scheme. Secretary work permits will go from $1,100 per year to $3,500 per year.

All accountants who do not have professional certifications will see their permit fees double – going from $4,000 per year to $8,000 per year.

Meanwhile, certified accountants’ work permit fees will rise by $3,000 per year, but will still be more expensive at $10,500 for each year’s work permit.

Generally, most professional job categories will see a $3,000 per year permit fee increase, including almost all top-level managers in every employment category. But there are several exceptions.

Attorneys’ work permit fees will go up by $5,000 per year in the new scheme, while paralegals’ work permit fees will rise by slightly more – $5,250 per year.

Most executive level marketing positions saw work permit increases of $4,000 per year, increasing the yearly cost of their permits to $8,000.

Permit fee increases in Cayman’s banking and finance industry saw a fairly steady $3,000 per year increase in most upper level management categories. However, certain analyst and compliance officer positions saw much higher increases of up to $6,500 per year.

In most cases, the government’s fee scheme brought work permit fees into line with each other based on the jobs the permits were for – not the particular industry the person worked in.

A human resources administrator or officer, for instance, has a $4,000 per year work permit fee whether they work in finance or retail.

Work permit fees for bookkeepers were also pegged at $4,000 across all businesses in Cayman.

In the construction industry, permit fees for most blue collar jobs went up by about $500 per year. A few much higher permit rises were seen as well; a $1,650 permit increase for maintenance workers being one example.

A few permits including those for motor vehicle electricians, wiremen and linemen, decreased by several hundred dollars a year.

The tourism industry saw scattered work permit fee increases with most management level positions’ fees going up between $1,700 and $3,000 per year.

Meanwhile, hospitality workers like chefs, gardeners, bartenders, waiters and the like saw permit fee hikes hovering around $500 per year – with most of the fee increases not going over $750 per year.

There were also a number of new permit categories added to the tourism industry roster of jobs, including positions for ‘exotic animal trainer,’ ‘butterfly specialist,’ and ‘water chemist.’ Those permits were at the upper end of the scale as far as cost.