Electronic options explored
The time taken for work permits to
be processed was a recurring theme at a meeting between Caymanian tourism
businesses and immigration professionals at Camana Bay on Tuesday.
The meeting was run by the Cayman
Islands Tourism Association, whose president, Harry Lalli, posed questions to a
panel from the Department of Immigration.
Chief Immigration Officer Linda
Evans said that it had never been possible to give a definitive time between
application and decision, but that the previous backlog had been cleared to the
point that July and August applications were now being considered.
After Mr. Lalli noted that the
tourism industry used temporary permits to a large extent, Ms Evans said that
while in the past temporaries had been dealt with by one individual, now four
staff would be processing them at the Cayman Centre, which would save time.
Sherryl Miller, director of Work
Permits and Boards, added that the workflow had been looked at internally, and
that applications were always dealt with in date of receipt. However, a
perennial problem was incomplete or improperly-filled applications, which added
to a backlog.
Hugh Treadwell, a tourism
association board member, later noted that the CITA membership would be
reminded of their responsibility to ensure that all paperwork was correctly
delivered to immigration in order to expedite the process. He also said that he
would expect incomplete applications simply to be thrown out by the board
rather than their wasting time chasing missing information.
Mr. Treadwell said that in CITA
board meetings it had been noted that there was a fluidity of business in
tourism, particularly in the retail sales, dive, food and beverage elements of
the sector where staff were often required very quickly. However, delays in
processing work permits meant that staff had been lost to other territories.
“The people who are the best in the
world in those businesses have lots of options, and there have been dive
masters recently lost to Micronesia or Indonesia due to the delay. They wanted
to come to Cayman but just couldn’t wait. The great chefs, waiters, retail
sales associate that can sell a lot of jewellery can go anywhere they want in
the world. By the time you give someone a job and check them out, then tell
them you don’t know when [they can start], people often go [elsewhere].
“If we want to be a world-class
tourism destination we need world class people and if we can get them here
quickly they will come here almost over everywhere else they want to live in
the world,” he said, adding that tourism repeatedly came across a situation
where Caymanians were not necessarily qualified for the jobs in question.
Others at the meeting suggested
that being able to give employees a definite start date would be much more
useful in order to give the prospective worker a chance to schedule their lives
in terms of renting out their property or giving notice at their current jobs.
Ms Miller said ideally that would
be the case, but the department is “severely short-staffed.”
“In the work permit secretariat we
have the grand number of four people to deal with all of it so it’s not easy.
The same persons who are listing applications for board meetings are the same
ones who are doing the decision letters to let people know. It’s not as if
anyone’s sitting down twiddling their thumbs.”
Once the board has met to verify
its decisions, it is possible to post them online at midnight the same night.
However, it is not the case that letters informing businesses of the decisions
are automatically generated — something Ms Miller said the work permits board
is working on. It is an IT issue, she noted.
Ms Evans said the possibility of an
electronic applications system had also been explored, but again there is an
issue of computer system resources.
“With all good intentions, our
database as it is currently has 400 man-hours of enhancements to be done and
[internal] IT are also understaffed so we’re in a Catch-22 situation. We would
love to be able to take applications online but, if we don’t have the resources
to make that happen we can[not do that and] we do not have the resources to
out-source our IT,” she said.