Immigration is a hot topic for most people. Whether you’re concerned about the Caymanian expatriate balance or if you are waiting on much needed work permits, everyone has an opinion on the efficiency and planning behind the Immigration Department and its policies. This has never been more apparent than at a recent BE INFORMED series presentation on Immigration hosted by the Chamber in May.
Over 150 Chamber members attended to listen to keynote speaker Mrs. Sherri Bodden-Cowan, business woman and chairman of the Immigration Review Team, as well as the Chief Immigration Officer Mrs. Linda Evans and her Immigration staff. On the panel accompanying Mrs. Bodden-Cowan and Mrs. Evans were Gary Wong, deputy chief immigration officer (enforcement and intelligence); Sherryl Miller, director of boards and work permits and Bruce Smith, deputy chief immigration officer (border control).
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan talked about the IRT’s proposed directives relating to the financial services industry and the new accreditation system that is designed to speed up the processing of key employees and possibly replace the Business Staffing Plan. This system would require businesses to reach certain criteria before they will be able to apply for work permits.
Ten volunteer companies from the Financial Services Industry are already using the self-assessment tool and helping to identify any problems before it is eventually rolled out across the entire private sector. Because this can be implemented under the existing Immigration Law, the IRT believes this system could be in full swing by the end of summer 2010; this is providing there are no hold ups with the final development of the online assessment tool and that Cabinet approves all final plans. Other items brought to the audience’s attention were proposed changes to the rollover policy and the new Certificate of Direct Investment reintroduced recently into law by the premier, as well as other initiatives to attract inward investment. Mrs. Bodden-Cowan was clear, thorough and informative.
Passions, however, ran high as several local business people, including two past Chamber presidents, stood up and demanded answers to the often confusing and spiraling issues of work permit fees and procedures. The general claim was the fees have increased significantly and do not relate sensibly to the related positions. The cry continued that these fees are strangling small businesses at a time when it is already hard enough to do business. One long-time business owner said that he might have to look for employment and close his doors. The questioning continued long after the advertised conclusion of the presentation but panel members kindly agreed to stay and answer questions the best they could. It was clear that the Immigration Department representatives, themselves, felt understaffed and not always were they able to offer concise answers to the individual cases put forward by the audience.
The purpose of the BE INFORMED presentation series is to bring direct and factual information to our members, from the experts, on key issues and concerns. We encourage debate and discussion with invited panel members and hope that most members will leave satisfied to some extent. This is sometimes a more difficult process with something as complex as the issues of Immigration.
Few problems were immediately solved at this event, but what it did do is connect people; people in charge of implementing government policy and people who are directly affected by this policy. For a while, we were able to sit together and understand the problems that we are both facing. It is another step closer to being heard and understood at a time of reforms and innovation and it is an opportunity for public and private sectors to move forward together in the pursuit of solutions and progress as a community.
We must never lose sight of the fact that the Cayman Islands is still a very competitive jurisdiction in which to do business. Even in these tough economic times, most private businesses remain optimistic and expect an early recovery from the global recession. We will continue with our BE INFORMED presentations and invite all our members to come out and be heard.
For more information on the Be Informed series contact:
[email protected] or call 949-8090 ext 122.