Work permits down, earnings up

The Cayman Islands government’s earnings from work permit and permanent residency fees rose more than 30 per cent in 2010, even though the number of work permits declined significantly during that time.

The finding was made in the recently-released Annual Economic Report from the government’s Economics and Statistics Office. “The increase in revenue was due to a 50 per cent average increase in work permit fees [in 2010],” the statistics office report noted.

Large permit fee increases took effect in the beginning of 2010, with fees nearly tripling for some job categories. On average, permit costs increased by $3,000 per employee in most professional categories.

Work permits are required for any foreign employee in the Cayman Islands who does not have Caymanian status or who is not married to a Caymanian. Permanent residents who are not Caymanian also must pay a yearly fee to maintain their right to work here.

Opposition political party members have frequently urged the ruling government to reduce previous work permit fee increases as a cost-saving effort for local businesses, but the government has declined to do so.

The large increase in government revenues from work permit and permanent resident fees – 31.7 per cent between 2009 and 2010 – may be one reason why.

In calendar year 2010, government earned $56.7 million in work permit and residency fees, according to the stats office. That’s compared to $43.1 million earned on those fees in 2009 and $48 million earned in 2008.

The revenue increase from permit fees is surprising when considering that the number of work permits, which include government contracts for foreign employees, held in Cayman has dropped by more than 20 per cent in less than three years. Work permit fees are not charged for foreign workers in government.

According to the statistics office, there were 26,516 work permits held in Cayman at the end of 2008. In 2009, that number dropped to 23,531 and last December it fell to 20,452.

The Caymanian Compass has requested updated work permit numbers through the mid-way point of 2011 through the Freedom of Information Law and will publish those figures as soon as the Immigration Department releases them.


As has been previously reported, overall unemployment in Cayman rose to 6.7 per cent toward the end of last year. Statistics office figures showed that is the highest unemployment rate in the country since 2001, when unemployment reached 7.5 per cent.

However, the statistics office figures only provided enough information to calculate total unemployment. Numbers that would have allowed for the calculation of Caymanian unemployment were not included in the report.

By the end of 2009, Caymanian unemployment had reached about 10 per cent, though total unemployment ended the year at about six per cent. Typically, foreign unemployment numbers in the Cayman Islands are quite low because, in most cases, expatriate workers are not allowed to remain unless they have a job.

Employment figures also revealed that the Cayman Islands’ overall workforce shrank in 2010 for the second straight year. Prior to 2009, the number of people in the local workforce either grew or stayed roughly the same in each year since 1995.


  1. Government may have earned more money from work permits but the landlords didn’t. Similarly, the grocery stores didn’t earn more money from fewer expats, nor did the restaurants, bars, or anyone else.

    In fact, the increased income from work permits is probably balanced by reduced revenues from the Customs department.

    I will say it again, this Rollover policy has been an unmitigated disaster for the Cayman Islands.

  2. The island is going backwards. You want to invite more expats here to expand the economy not shrink it by making it more unappealing to conduct business here.
    You have to look at the broad picture.
    Like OldDiver implied… the raise in fees has made money for the government but has hurt and will continue to hurt the economy. They are biting the hand that feeds them and the scary part of this is that when these companies leave and set up in more accommodating jurisdictions they aren’t coming back.
    The whole offshore world has changed and Cayman is no longer a tax haven with newly signed treaties of transparency … the tax haven that drew so many businesses, wealth and jobs will be a thing of the past. It doesn’t make sense for companies to operate here with all the costs and no benefits but government is looking out for their paycheque now, and will just pass the buck on to the next administration.

  3. Old Diver, I agree with your point, but another point to keep in mind that the one thing the roll over and the increase in permit fees did was reduce the amount Expats on the Island. This is something the Caymanian people and the opposition begged and rallied for insisting that getting rid of Expats would benefit the Caymanian people economically. The expectation was that once expats were forced out it would result in less unemployment for Caymanians as well as a drop in crime and reduced cost of living but the result has been the opposite.

    I also say that it has been to the detriment of Cayman society, hopefully this will be a lesson learned for the folks that have an anti Expat and Foreigner attitude who claim that Expats and foreigners do nothing for Cayman society but put a drain on it.

  4. I’m an Expat and leaving voluntarily in August. I can’t wait to go back where I came from! Wish granted to all of those expat bashers!

  5. And 5 years ago, no expat would dare speak like this. So times are changing.

    Everyone has to realise, that we are a global nation. And now because of roll over. The first graduating highschool students of the the first term, 7 years since roll over policy has been implemented. Are going to see and feel what happens when thier parents voted for a roll over policy in the first place.

    Betcha they didn’t think by voting for a roll over policy, they would be putting thier own children out of work.


  6. Hi NJ2Cay, I know very well how the Rollover policy came about. My wife and I were living on the island at the time and had real estate investments too. Two people can’t live much of a life on a divemaster salary and the rental incomes really helped.

    We saw the writing on the wall though. We sold up everything and left in 2002. The last condo was sold just weeks before Hurricane Ivan.

    These days we would consider moving back to Cayman, but only with a work permit that is substantially the same as a green card, allowing us to work where we want to work.

  7. If there is anyone in Cayman who thinks this report is in any way positive, then take off the blinkers. I will not bore people by saying what has been aptly described by other writers. If there is anyone who thinks this strategy of reducing work permits is a good one, then think again. The solution is not to keep people out, but to bring the educational level up and you get the same result and Cayman wins.

    I was told recently by a teacher at John Gray High School that of the 100 teachers there, 90% are expats. I shouldnt have to say another word now should I.

  8. First …where is my i have been waiting for my work permit fee refund over 6 months about 500 ,,
    that said ,,, I watched my friend and small business owner attempt this week to get a work permit for a jamaican and or an american ..It actually started last week when a key employees wife passed away in jamaica her body is on ice and the kid is with a stranger…
    here it is 10 days later and 4 western union trips. 35 phone calls to the 2 hopeful employees waiting to come.. immigration closing early the other day .AND then my friend was treated RUDELY by whomever was working the phone in immigration…. Fat Chance to speak with whomever is in charge.. even when they are asked for by name .(there phone number is private )…..and here it is friday NO Permit in hand but wait hopefully monday we get it ……In the mean time 6 people are standing around hoping to get someone here ..and My friend is thinking about closing down until he has someone to run this machine..Or the man comes back from jamaica from putting his wife to rest …….HOW SICK

  9. OldDiver – statistics come in 3 kinds and are only useful if they are understood.

    Note from the ESO website:

    The Economics and Statistics Office (ESO) defines current work permits as work permits in operations within the Cayman Islands at a specific point in time. The tables posted here on the website contain number of work permits by nationality and refer to the 31st December each year. Included are the grant and renewal of annual work permits, the grant and extension of temporary work permits, and persons working for the government. Additionally, persons working and awaiting responses to their application for extended time on the islands are included. Excluded from the above figures are persons working who have obtained Permanent Resident status.

    From the present statistics there are 21,000 work permit holders. These numbers do not appear to include the thousands of work permit holders who have gained permanent residence or become Caymanians in recent years – and so using the numbers to claim the number of expats in Cayman is decreasing is potentilly very misleading.

  10. Unfortunately the collateral damage caused by the stupidity of this economic model will only be realized fully when the impact is felt in their own way of life.

    Moreover, I wonder if this rollover program would be sustained if the legislative benefactors were suddenly faced with a salary and benefits reduction in the order of 30 or 40 percent to meet survival.

    After all many individuals and business’s are experiencing just that and contemplating an insidious eventuality.

    More agonizing uncertainty about the economic future will only bring about more insipient retreat.

    Change the existing model now before it is too late, create a new economic environment, demonstrate that Cayman is open for business and investment.

    Give Caymanians an opportunity to thrive in a culture of optimism and virility, not disparity and dispraise.

  11. The rollover policy was put in place to stop expats from getting status etc? They didn’t want expats to become Caymanian?
    This have never made sense to me. Every Caymanian was an expat at sometime… yes there is a culture here and I believe the expats of today adapt, embrace and respect.
    I heard or read somewhere that the roll over policy was to stop expats in high positions from obtaining status because then they would hire more expats…???

    If you have a family that is a positive member of society.. volunteers, owns a home, employs individuals.. you want that person to stay at all costs.

    People fear change but change is good.

  12. Work Permits are down because it is TOO EXPENSIVE! Drop the Work Permit fees and Trade/Business license fees, revamp the immigration policies; especially, the roll-over one, and you will see local businesses pick up and more jobs created.

  13. When I read this article (I’m an expat) I sighed and scrolled down expecting a lot of ‘good riddance’ and other ignorant responses. I am really pleasantly surprised by the intelligent comments and the number of likes they have received.

    It is sad that my expectation was so negative, but it is something borne out of being regarded as ‘second class’ by some Caymanians, which are even reflected in some of the policies of government.

    I really like Cayman, and have made friends from many of its beautiful people, but there exists a rotten percentage that are seriously threatening to ruin it for everyone. I have heard more than once from friends of being in a queue for a shop and being cut in line by a local resident only to be told something along the lines of I’m Caymanian, it’s my right if challenged. This is just of course bigoted and frankly racist behaviour.

    I don’t mean to rant, however this seems like as good a forum as any to pass a message back. The majority of expats are here to contribute to Cayman, it’s prosperity and communities, and in turn have a safe home and earn a living. Please respect us as we respect you and let’s all work together to make Cayman a truly multi-cultural place with a great future ahead of it. We really do contribute a lot to this Island and only ask in return to be treated as an equal.

  14. In response:

    To NJ2Cay

    Duuuhhh ! You’re finally beginning to get it; kudos to you !

    The job of the CI Governement since the days of Exco, has always been to facilitate the investor/business community first and foremost and let trickle-down economics take care of providing jobs for the general workforce of the Caymanian population.

    It worked for the time that Cayman had one of the world’s richest economies, until the recession hit the world for six (that’s cricketing term for a home run in baseball-ball hit way out of the park)LOL.

    The difficulty of now changing an entire economy and culture that was built almost totally the ‘get-rich-now’ mentality is proving enormously difficult, for both Cayman’s people and leaders; it calls for a change to a more inclusive and collective culture that runs against the expected norm of Cayman’s present status quo.

    Thus we have a raging quarrel still ongoing re Caymanians vs expatriates that is only proving to be an obstacle to what all parties concerned are seeking; a safe and prosperous Cayman Islands that all can be a part of and benefit from to its fullest.

    If most of us did not believe that Cayman can still be that place, we wouldn’t waste our time posting our comments on this forum;nor would there be such high emotions running within the Cayman population.

    Yes, without a doubt, the political heirarchy of the Caymanian government has always worked with Cayman’s business community to facilitate work permits that certain parties needed or wanted, outside of any consideration of qualified Caymanians be available or not because…

    In most cases it was either considered good business or the relationship had to be maintained and facilitated.

    This is no secret to Caymanians but they did not complain when it worked in their favour but, of course, will raise a stink when its working against them…like, at this present time.

    A new addition to Cayman, like yourself, would find it difficult to see this on the surface of Caymanian life, at first glance and as…


    Has pointed out, some very basic but society-changing adjustments wiil have to be considered to fixing Cayman’s current economic and social conditions.

    Resistance to those changes is what’s proving to be the major obstacles right now.

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