The grants of Caymanian Status to 2,850 people by Cabinet in the last half of 2003 caused an uproar that still reverberates today.
A lot of the difficulties experienced in the Cayman Islands over the past few years have been blamed on the Status grants. As a result, some Caymanians have called for a very restrictive approach to granting Caymanian Status in the future, with some calling for there to be no more grants of Caymanian Status at all.
There are others who think the Cayman Islands needs the exact opposite.
Sherri Bodden-Cowan, the current chair of the Work Permit Board, says that a 2003 report by the Immigration Review Team recommended slowly growing the population of Caymanians.
The IRT recommended a process whereby some expatriates would be able to stay in Cayman long enough to apply for Permanent Residency, and if they attained that on a point system, then they could stay here long enough to gain Caymanian Status after 15 years. That is pretty much the system in place today.
However, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan says what has happened is not enough people have been given the designation of key employee, something which is essential to them being able to stay in the Cayman Islands long enough to apply for Permanent Residency.
Over the past two years, Cayman’s population has declined more than 10 per cent, largely fuelled by the loss of more than 5,000 foreign workers and their dependents. The departures have negatively impacted the local economy and unemployment of Caymanians has risen rather than fallen because many businesses have closed or trimmed their staffs as a result of declining revenues.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan suggests Cayman would be better off with more citizens, similar to Bermuda. Bermuda has a population of about 65,000, with about 10,000 – a little over 15 per cent – foreigners, while the Cayman Islands has a population of about 50,000, with about half of that number foreigners.
Having such a large percentage of non-Caymanians in the society has had a number of negative economic effects, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan says. For one thing, she says having the seven-year term limit – the rollover policy – apply to such a high percentage of Cayman’s labour force makes it not only more difficult on employers, but prevents a lot of what is earned in the Cayman Islands from being spent here.
“Most of the money made here goes back to the homelands of the earners,” Mrs. Bodden-Cowan says, adding that the lack of security of tenure for even high-salary-earning expatriates makes them hesitant to invest here.
There are also cultural and social effects of having so many foreigners here on a “revolving door” system, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan says. Knowing they will only be here a short while, many expatriates fail to assimilate into the society and get involved in the community. Instead of long-term expatriate residents becoming “Caymanised”, the high percentage of short-term foreign residents makes Cayman more “expatriatised”.
Bermuda has seen a more measured population growth over the past 60 years, going from 37,403 people in 1950 to approximately 65,000 in 2010. Although grants of Bermudian Status are more restrictive today, much of its early population growth led to citizenship.
Mrs. Bodden-Cowan believes Cayman should establish a long-term population growth plan and look to slowly increase the number of Caymanians to as many as 60,000, which she believes would lead to more economic and social stability.
“These people would become part of the fabric of society,” she says of the new Caymanians. “That has to be better than having 20,000 different people here every seven years.”