Work Permit Board braces for application rush
The Cayman Islands Work Permit Board expects to receive a much larger than usual number of applications from foreign workers seeking key employee status in the second half of this year.
The anticipated influx of key employee applications, according to board chairperson Sherri Bodden-Cowan, is likely to result from the large number of individuals who were granted work permits in the months after Hurricane Ivan struck Cayman in September 2004.
Cayman Islands Immigration Law requires all foreign workers employed on work permits to leave Cayman after seven years of continuous residence. Key employee status, which can be granted either by the Work Permit Board or the Business Staffing Plan Board, allows an individual to work in the Islands for a further two years beyond the seven-year term limit.
Those extra two years allow that individual to stay in Cayman long enough to apply for permanent residence; the right to remain in the country for the rest of their lives.
“Person arriving since [Hurricane] Ivan are now nearing their seven years,” Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said. “It is therefore incumbent on the board to deal with all key employee applications as expeditiously as possible in order to clear an uncertainty amongst employers as to who will be identified as key and who will not.”
It is not possible to determine from available immigration statistics how many people who arrived after Hurricane Ivan actually stayed in Cayman the full seven years, but the seven-year anniversary of the storm will occur this September after which the permits granted in late 2004 and early 2005 will begin to come to full term.
Also, Cayman’s labour force statistics clearly show a massive influx of people that arrived in Cayman during 2005, compared to a sharp drop in the population around the time Ivan occurred. By the fall of 2004, Cayman’s total workforce was just 23,453 people, with less than 11,000 non-Caymanians comprising that group, according to the government Economics and Statistics Office.
A year later, the workforce had swelled to 36,767 people with 17,439 non-Caymanians in the work force – an increase of about 6,500 non-Caymanians in the labour force in just 12 months. Moreover, in 2006 and 2007, work permit figures continued to increase the influx of foreign workers.
“After Ivan, [work permit numbers] went as high as 25,000, but to my knowledge have never gone below 20,000,” Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said.
Typically, key employee applications are sent to the Work Permit Board unless the company filing the application has a business staffing plan. The Work Permit Board also has to deal with a sizable number of general permit applications on a weekly basis. In recent years, Immigration Department Officers have been granted authority to review routine permit applications without requiring board members’ input.
If there is a crumb of comfort for board members facing the slew of new key employee applications, Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said it is that an earlier backlog of work permit applications that numbered in the thousands at one time has largely been reduced.
“There are approximately 50 applications pending from 2010 for which the files cannot be located and they will recreate these files so we can deal with them as soon as possible,” she said.
Overall work permit numbers in Cayman have dropped since late 2008 by more than 6,000 permit-holders. At the end of 2010, there were slightly more than 20,000 foreign workers in the country, including government contract-holders.