If Premier McKeeva Bush has his way, the length of time
foreign nationals would have to leave the Cayman Islands after reaching their
term limit will be reduced to one month.
In a statement broadcast last Thursday evening, Mr. Bush
said Cayman had failed to implement its immigration policies in a manner that
allowed the continuation of growth in the financial industry.
“It is my firm belief that one of the most important
matters which needs to be immediately addressed is how to encourage persons and
businesses to relocate to Cayman and to conduct their business on the ground in
our country,” he said, adding that doing so would require initiatives and
incentives that are attractive to the outside world.
“These initiatives can be achieved without the necessity
of granting Cayman status,” he said.
“What is needed is for all to examine how best to achieve this while
creating jobs and upward mobility for Caymanians, and to implement
Speaking about the controversial provisions in the
Immigration Law that mandate term limits for most foreign workers – the
so-called rollover policy – Mr. Bush said the government has legal advice from
the UK indicating that the period of time a foreigner must be away from the
Cayman Islands after reaching a term limit could be as short “as we want… in
While providing more details on Friday, Mr. Bush said the
legal advice came from Lord Pannick, QC.
Mr. Pannick has been involved in another high-profile matter with the
Cayman Islands. In 2004, he wrote an opinion that suggested the Cayman Islands
Cabinet acted unlawfully in making 2,850 Caymanian Status grants. That opinion
became the basis of a lawsuit filed – and later abandoned – by the Caymanian
Bar Association calling for a judicial review of the Status grants.
Mr. Bush said the legal advice was solicited by Attorney
General Sam Bulgin at the request of Cabinet and that the opinion suggested
that Cayman law would override other concerns when it came to establishing what
constituted a break of residency from the Cayman Islands.
In addition to Lord Pannick’s opinion, Mr. Bush said the
Cayman Islands Investment Council had also independently sought advice on the
matter from Jeffrey Jowell, QC, who also served as an advisor in Cayman’s
constitutional modernisation process that culminated last year.
Cayman Islands Investment Council Member Michael Ryan
confirmed Friday that the group had received preliminary advice from Mr. Jowell
several months ago stating that 30 days would be a sufficient length of time to
create a break in residency and that a final opinion had just recently been
received supporting the preliminary opinion.
When the rollover policy was first established in an
amendment to the Immigration Law in January 2004, foreign nationals who reached
their term limit were required to leave the jurisdiction for two years before
they could return and get another work permit. The law was further amended in
December 2006, reducing the time a work permit holder had to be away from the
Cayman Islands to one year.
Mr. Bush wants to see that term reduced even further.
“I support bringing down to a month,” he said, adding,
however, that nothing has been decided yet.
One concern in shortening the period a foreigner has to
be away from Cayman is that someone could potentially initiate a legal
challenge arguing about what constitutes a break in residency, which, if
successful, could lead to long-term residents who were away only for a short
time getting security of tenure in the Cayman Islands. Others have suggested
that by reducing the period to less than a year, some employers would hold jobs
for foreign workers who were coming back rather than hiring Caymanians to fill
Mr. Bush said he recognised that there will be opposition
to reducing the residency break for foreigners who are rolled over.
“There is no doubt there are people who oppose this,” he
said. “There are people who oppose this in the party, in the caucus and in the
Despite the opposition, Mr. Bush said the change is needed.
“This is not going to please everyone, but we’ve got to
do what’s right for the country or the country is going to sink,” he said.
“Changes are needed and changes are imminent.”
Mr. Bush said Cayman’s immigration policies are
negatively affecting the economy.
“I have to do everything I can do to protect my people
and see that they are trained, given upward mobility and have glass ceilings
removed,” he said, adding that the government was already addressing those
issues. “But at the same time, I can’t neglect the issues that are causing us
harm and will continue to cause problems. A balance has to be found in giving
certainty to people while protecting Caymanians.”
Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts expressed surprise
to hear that the government had received legal advice suggesting the break in
residency could be reduced to as little as one month.
“That’s not the advice we got,” he said, “and we sought
advice not only locally, but we also sought advice in London.”