Local business owners struggling

Cayman Islands small business
owners told Immigration Department officials Wednesday that several recent
government decisions are making a tough economic situation worse, and a few
said they might be forced to close down during what is likely to be a long,
slow summer.

“The economy is exacerbating these
immigration issues,” said Cayman Architectural Design owner Eddie Thompson.
“And the immigration fees are the final nail in the coffin.”

Mr. Thompson told the hundreds
gathered for a Chamber of Commerce meeting with top immigration officials
Wednesday afternoon at the Westin Casuarina Resort that his five-person company
had been reduced to just two people – himself and one employee. He said newly
increased work permit fees combined with Caymanian training requirements were
simply not feasible for a business that size.

“I cannot physically do this,” he
said. “(I’m) at the point where closing my doors and seeking employment is a
more viable option.”

Earlier this year, the Cayman
Islands government approved increases to work permit fees that averaged about
$3,000 more per year for professional classes of employees.

Work permits are required for every
foreign employee who comes to Cayman.

Another local business owner,
Morgan DaCosta of Maedac, said some of the fee increases had him paying $8,000
a year just to hire an inventory clerk.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Mr.
DaCosta said, adding that it appeared government was focusing only on helping
the financial services industry and not “the people who actually live here.”

Mr. DaCosta said his company was
also struggling to work with immigration officials when it required assistance
with items like filing work permit paperwork or submitting a business staffing
plan.

“The immigration front line you
have put in place is totally and completely clueless as to the changes you all
have [made],” Mr. DaCosta said.

Other business owners recounted
their difficulties with the Department of Employment Relations job placement
programme. Currently, Cayman Islands business owners are required to obtain a
letter from employment relations stating that there are no Caymanians available
for their job prior to bringing in a work permit holder.

Maria Bodden, owner of the Roland
Bodden and Co. surveying company, said it was obvious that employment relations
staff placing individuals in jobs didn’t have any knowledge of the specific
businesses they were putting people in.

In one case, Mrs. Bodden said she
had been recommended a petite 20-year-old girl for a job that required the
worker to haul concrete and carry a machete in a swampy area for eight hours a
day.

“We’ve gotten people that were
totally unqualified for the position,” she said.

Chief Immigration Officer Linda
Evans told the audience of business owners that her department didn’t have
anything to do with the decision to raise work permit fees, and that she could
understand business owners’ frustrations.

She noted that a pension suspension
or “holiday” that was supposed to save companies money had only been taken by
some 100 workers. Recent figures compiled by the Caymanian Compass put that
number closer to 300. There are more than 22,000 work permit holders who live
in the Islands.

Ms Evans said that immigration does
have access to the Department of Employment Relations placement database.
However, she said immigration officers who are reviewing work permit applications
have no way of knowing how an individual was assessed for a particular position.

The chief immigration officer also
noted that employers continued to create new job categories for workers that
weren’t included in the current list maintained by immigration, and that in
some cases those new positions had apparently been created to “evade fees”.
This typically includes a higher-echelon position that is classified in a lower
category to help reduce permit fees.

“It catches up with you when you
apply for key employee and we find out that person is actually in management,”
Mrs. Evans said.

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