Key employees here to stay

Top Lede

The head of government’s
Immigration Review Team said last week that it would be impractical to
eliminate key employee status designations from the Cayman Islands Immigration

That status, which allows a foreign
worker to stay in the Islands long enough to apply for permanent residence, can
only be granted if an employer first seeks that designation and an immigration
board approves it for the worker. If a foreign-born employee is not given key
employee status, he or she must depart the Cayman Islands after reaching seven
years of continued residence here. The worker must leave the Islands for at
least one year.

Immigration Review Team Chair
Sherri Bodden-Cowan told of Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce members last
week that government feels their pain when it comes to the application for and
awarding of key employee status.

“It’s something we’ve heard from
the private sector time and time again,” Mrs. Bodden Cowan told the audience of
hundreds. “People that businesses consider key are simply being refused by the
various boards.”

“Board members will tell you that
they’re equally confused by who should be key. A lot of times their ability to
assess whether a person is key or not is limited to their own experience within
their own businesses on the Islands.”

As a result, the review team
studied whether it would be possible to remove the need for key employee
designations altogether. Doing so would mean that all work permit holders who
were not replaced by a qualified Caymanian in their jobs could stay in the
Islands a further two years, extending their maximum term to nine years. All of
those workers could apply for permanent residence after eight years of
continuous residence. Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said this measure would take some red
tape out of the system and would leave one less hoop for employers to jump
through when it came to immigration matters.

But in the end, the review team
found removing key employee designations simply wasn’t practical for the time

“At the moment, the Caymanian
Status and Permanent Residency Board, the Immigration Department, and the Immigration
Appeals Tribunal could not cope with thousands of permanent residency
applications,” she said.

In addition to the backlogs, Mrs.
Bodden-Cowan said some people would always attempt to game the system.

“What would happen would be what
happens in the US and other places where there are deportation orders pending
for five and six years at a time. People would simply apply (for permanent
residence) at year eight [with] no possibility of that application being dealt
with for two or three years; then appeal it. By that time the person has been
here for 15 years.”

Instead of the elimination of key
employee status provisions from the law, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said immigration
officials were looking at revamping the points system currently used to
determine whether someone qualifies for permanent residence – the right to
remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.

Immigration Review Team members
envision a point at which those residence applications can be approved or
denied based solely on the points system, and not at the subjective whims of
whichever appointed board has to rule on them.

They aren’t at that point yet.

“We are looking at such a tool for
the [Employer] Accreditation System,” Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said. “If it does work
for the accreditation system, we could look at using it for permanent


Proposals for the Employer
Accreditation System were announced more than a year ago by the Immigration
Department, and Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said the current government is still working
on implementing such a plan.

Under the system, private companies
would be evaluated according to a set of criteria which basically seek to
determine if the business is a good corporate citizen.

The crucial question, according to
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan, was: “How do we ensure we are not giving away these key
employee positions to companies that really are not dedicated to ensuring the
promotion and training of Caymanians?”

Criteria includes evaluating
whether the company has a high standard of business ethics; if they have talent
development and community programmes; and if the business promotes or participates
in industries that are underdeveloped on the Islands. The accreditation system
will also look at a business’s employment practices.

Companies would be placed into one
of four tiers or levels, based on how they comply with those criteria. Tier One
being the lowest, and Tier Four being the highest.

The higher the tier, the more
services immigration would provide to a business. For instance, a Tier Four
company would have a specific immigration officer assigned to deal with their
work permit applications and would have those applications handled within a
guaranteed number of days.

Tier One employers, who only meet
the minimum legal requirements to carry on business in Cayman, would only be
able to apply for work permit renewals.

Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said the
accreditation system would be tried first on Cayman’s financial services
industry, where 10 companies have already started participating in a pilot project
to test the system.

Later on, separate accreditation
systems will be developed, one for larger companies; and one for smaller. The
precise definition of small and large companies has not been given.

Accreditation would have to be
obtained every two years under the plan now being floated by government.

If the accreditation systems work,
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said the Immigration Review Team would look at removing the requirement
that businesses with 15 or more work permit holders submit a Business Staffing
Plan each year to the Immigration Department. She admitted that process is
often a headache for employers and hasn’t worked out as first envisioned.

Sheri Bodden

Mrs. Bodden-Cowen


  1. I agree with not eliminating the Key employee status. Companies are already not hireing Caymanians and no one can tell me this isnt true because it has happened to me on numerous occasions. eg. The company calls you in for an interview you do well & the call you for a second interview. After the second one you are all exited because you feel like you aced that one too. The you dont hear anymore from the company so you look into it. And guess what? they hired a foreiner. If you appeal it they give some lame excuse about you being overqualified or not suitable, but they can say that they interviewed you. What they dont state is that it was a farce anyway. So eliminating Key employe status and doing it based on the fact that no Caymanian was found will only increase the number of unemployed Caymanians because it will make it easier for the company not to hire them in the first place.

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