Work permit holders fall below 20,000

For the first time since Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, the number of work permit holders within the Cayman Islands has fallen below 20,000, according to statistics released by the Immigration Department following an open records request made by the Caymanian Compass.

As of 1 June, there were 19,753 permits, including government contracts for foreign workers. That’s about 800 fewer permits than were held here as of 1 January. The vast majority of the work permit reduction between January and June came from the permit renewals category; foreign workers who had received at least one full-year permit previously and who were seeking another full-term permit. There were 695 fewer people in Cayman on work permit renewals in early June than there were in early January.

New grants of work permits also fell by about 300 during that period; those are individuals who have received their first full-year permit to work in Cayman.

Most other permit categories decreased slightly, but there was an increase in the number of people working in Cayman “as an operation of law” between January and June, which means individuals applying for permanent residence or who appealed denials of work permits and who were allowed to remain in Cayman awaiting a final ruling on their cases. Immigration Law requires that all foreign workers in the Cayman Islands obtain work permits, or in the case of government employees, a contract that allows them to stay in the Islands. The number of permits held by foreign workers here changes frequently. Any figures presented by the Immigration Department for work permits represent a snapshot of the situation that exists in the country at that time. General trends can be discerned by looking at immigration numbers for work permits over a period of years. For instance, in the wake of 2004’s Ivan many permit-holders left Cayman, but the country’s rebuilding effort called for a large number of workers to be brought in.

By the end of 2004, there were more than 24,000 work permit holders in the Cayman Islands. That number topped out around 26,500 in 2008 and started a steady decline over the next 30 months to reach below the 20,000 mark. There are seven countries that represent the majority of work permit holders within the Cayman Islands. They are: Jamaica, the Philippines, the United Kingdom (immigration figures do not provide a break down by England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland), the United States, Canada, India and Honduras. Between January and June, work permit figures for all seven countries had dropped. The most precipitous decline in work permit holders has been noted among the local Jamaican population, which once had more than 12,000 permit workers in the Cayman Islands. By 1 June, 2011, that number had fallen to 7,630 permit holders – still the largest single foreign nationality to be represented within Cayman.

The number of Canadian permit holders also has fallen – almost by half – over the last few years. In 2006, immigration figures show there were nearly 2,000 Canadians in Cayman on work permits. By June, that number shrank to fewer than 1,200.

The number of Americans, Indians and Hondurans fell just slightly between January and June. The number of foreign workers from the United Kingdom has stayed about the same.

After several years of spectacular growth, work permit holders from the Philippines saw a significant decline between January and June of about 150 people. Filipinos are still the second most populous foreign nationality of work permit holders in Cayman, according to immigration statistics.


  1. The Cayman Nationalists got their wish. The expats are playing like an Energizer Bunny. They keep going, and going, and going.

    By the way, how’s that investment in a rental condo doing? Do you still have a tenant? Are you keeping up with mortgage payments? The bank hasn’t foreclosed yet? No property auctions on the steps of the courthouse yet?

    Not yet? Just wait a little longer.

  2. And lets not forget the other ramifications. I know of several CAYMANIAN owned business’s. That hire only Caymanians. That arent’ doing so well right now. And if it gets any worse, will have to lay off.

    It’s a spiraling toilet. And everyone is effected. I guess the people of the island, need to see the bad, and people have to lose thier homes and posessions before they figure it out.

  3. This expat is leaving the island and wish you all the best with your island. The high cost of electricity, petrol and the increasing crime rate made my decision. Cayman needs to make some changes and make them soon or the expats will continue to leave. Don’t think most Caymanians realize how much money work permits actually provide to the government coffers. If you averaged all work permits at 7,500 and most of the accounting and law firm work permits are much more…. it provides around 150 million dollars per year in revenue. When expats leave the govenment has less money, business owners make less, property owners have less revenue, etc… Well enough for me I’m out of here and glad to be going. It’s been fun but not real fun!

  4. Well it certainly seems like Cayman is starting to get back to the way things used to beAs all the local people oh excuse me (Born Caymanians) hoped it would be. I assume that is new projects go ahead like the Shetty Hospital and Enterprise City the goal will be to force them to only hire Caymanians.

  5. You know some of the comments in this forum are very sour and disgusting full of bigotry and contempt.

    Where did you x-pats get the idea that you are God’s gift to Cayman?
    You are so mistaken.It is since your presence that CAYMANIANS ARE WORST OFF. Its no fault of yours, allow us to criticize government for their wrong doing in granting way too many work permits for positions that could be held by qualified Caymanians.

  6. Dear Dubai,

    Yes, Cayman is Great due to the Ex-Pat community and the Government’s plans to open Cayman for international business. If it was not for the international businesses you would just have another poor Island like Haiti and countless other Carribean Countries.

  7. If permits fell by about 800 from 1 January to 1 June and (say) about 33 people a week are becoming Caymanian, Permanent Residents, persons married to Caymanians, persons married to permanent residents or working by operationm of Law/filing appeals then these statistics may in fact show that the population has remained stable and (overall) no-one is leaving.

    Alternatively, if more than 33 people a week are gaining those permissions, the statistics in fact will mean that the population continues to grow.

    If less than 33 people (say 16 a week) are gaining those alternative permissions, them your numbers would indicate a declining population of about 400 in the relevant period.

    Which is it?

  8. With the expats leaving what about all the developments built already and those on the planning board? This South Sound plan for example, which I disagree with, who are going to buy homes there? All the available housing who are going to fill them? The country’s economy is built to run with a large expat population and like it or not the country needs these people to operate.

  9. Dubai

    People who come to Cayman are allowed in because there isnt a qualified Caymanian to fill the post. The solution is to raise the educational standards so that you can replace those on permits with those people who are qualified. Replacing qualified people with those who are simply Caymanian is a policy to lead you nowhere fast.

    Stop revelling in the fact that the number of permits are down and focus on the quality of the people shipped out. I doubt that you will see too many of the so called true Caymanian occupying jobs that many of them consider to be menial. Hence the cycle of the wrong person in the wrong job whos not educated. By the way, when some of you get a minute, look at your history and check see who a real Caymanian might be.Some of you might be surprised to find out that you might not actually be the real thing.

    Finally, get somebody in power who can lead this country through its tough economic times instead of the bafoon you have who is simply groping in the dark and firing darts at the board to come up with a new strategy until he gets lucky. Start thinking with your heads and not your hearts. Get rid of the fool who doesnt even have a high school education and brags about it.

    Enough for today.

  10. Getting qualified, educated Caymanians is always going to be a problem. ‘Raising educational standards’ is all well and good, but the main issue is this…most people, in most countries are of average intellect, many skilled jobs need people who are in the higher calibre bracket. Say roughly 23,000 ‘real Caymanians’, of that, how many are fit and of working age, and want to work? of that figure, how many are clever enough to actually train for and carry out these skilled jobs? This is not a dig at Caymanian intellect, but you cannot hope to have all these lawyers, medical practitioners, accountants, teachers etc. based on the population of a very small town.

  11. Pattieman

    But what you should be able to reasonably expect is that the Caymanians who are qualified as accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers et al, be given the preference of employment in their own country and have their status as qualified professionals protected by the labour/immigration laws of the country…

    As the laws demands in almost any country from which qualified professionals are hired and given work permits to work in Cayman.

    You should also be able to reasonably expect that any gifted students who are intent on pursuing careers in their chosen professions be given every opportunity to do so…just as they have been in their home countries when they were becoming the professionals that eventually get hired in Cayman…

    Also, what you can reasonably expect is that in the era of economic downturn such as the Cayman Islands is suffering through right now, that the interests of the nationals of Cayman (non-work permit people) be given preference over non-nationals, just as it would be in the home countries from which these non-nationals in Cayman are recruited.

    Now, we all realise that the norm as applied by these other countries does not apply in Cayman so any work-permit holder can thumb his/her nose at any unemployed Caymanian and spout any rhetoric and excuse they wish….because, in may cases,

    They have been preferred and chosen over a competing Caymanian for a job in Cayman.

    Personally, I simply got tired of it all and decided to leave the Cayman Islands to any and all foreigners who wish to have it and its jobs and to all employers, be they Caymananian or foreigner, who wish to hire them, for whatever reasons.

    I would much rather put up with being being a second class citizen, which I am definitely not in my adopted country, than be treated as a second class citizen by work-permit holders who now live and work in Cayman.

    If I cannot be first in the country of my birth, according to all natural and applied laws of most other coutries, then Cayman is simply no longer my country…

    And, btw, I stand and hold myself as the equal or superior of ANY work-permit holder in Cayman at an egually qualified level of education and experience in our chosen professions and am always ready to put my claims to the test…

    The work permit holders are welcome to the Cayman Islands, with my blessings….

    Obviously though, be warned, there are many who do not feel the way that I do, as a Caymanian national.

  12. Firery

    I doubt there are many unemployed Caymanian professionals, if any, who would like to work here.

    I have seen many gifted (and not quite so gifted) students here awarded scholarships – in many cases, scholarships they simply would not have access to in many other countries. They do go on to fill ‘professional’ positions here.

    The point I am making is this, there are many professional jobs here. The size of Cayman means that the islands cannot hope to ever fill all of these positions with home-grown talent. There simply are not enough clever people within a small populace. At a guess, there are at least 300-400 teachers on the island. How would it ever be possible to find those, plus all of the lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants out of a total population of around 23,000. That number includes all the elderly, infants, and those folk that just don’t particularly want to work, bless them.

    I do not rely on others to make me employable, I work hard myself to make that the case.

    As for ‘leaving it to foreigners’? We are only different nationalities due to man-made political boundaries. The idea of a Caymanian, what is that exactly? A few hundred years ago there was nothing on this island but mosquitoes. What is Caymanian, is actually just like any other nationality, shaped by wave after wave of visitors, who stay a bit longer than most.

  13. As for ‘leaving it to foreigners’? We are only different nationalities due to man-made political boundaries. The idea of a Caymanian, what is that exactly? A few hundred years ago there was nothing on this island but mosquitoes. What is Caymanian, is actually just like any other nationality, shaped by wave after wave of visitors, who stay a bit longer than most.


    This statement is probably true of all the world’s geographic locations back in the eons of time before the world became such a populated and competitive place…if you are not Caymanian, it applies to whatever country you hail from as well.

    The division of counries, tribes and people that apply to the conditions of today is what we are discussing here, not world history.

    Immigration/labour and border controls that all countries have in place are meant to deal with the protection of a country and its population as it exista today, not thousands of years ago.

    Even in a country as supposedly poor as Jamaica, and Jamaica is not a poor country, it only has a lot of poor people, you cannot get any type of WORK PERMIT, for any type of job except for the most technical of positions in the most specialised of professions.

    The principle being that whatever little that exists in Jamaica is for JAMAICANS AND JAMAICANS only; I grew up in Jamaica as a child and student and have been very indoctrinated in this way of thinking myself so thus my own decision for leaving Cayman.

    This is something that is called ‘national pride’ and no amount of money can be put on it for sale or barter.

    Why should Caymanians feel any different about their own country and themselves ?

    Yet, how much human capital in so many areas does Jamaica not export abroad ? or the Phillipines et al et al.

    I am not anti-foreigner or anti-expatriate but I try to bring a balanced perspective to the debate.

    Only a detailed summary of Cayman’s labour statistics that show which Caymanians in which categories are unemployed matched up against which permit-holders have permits for those same positions would give us confirmed facts from which to argue either case and I can guarantee you…

    You will not get that information from the Cayman Islands Government, even though, through the different data bases of information that exists, the information is there.

    Foreign-born work permit holders in Cayman, in many cases, did not come to the Cayman Islands for the sake of helping the Cayman Islands or its people.

    They have come for the economic opportunities and benefits that existed to better themselves that did not exist in their own countries and that is now seeming to disappear in the Cayman Islands…

    And, along with the opportunities, goes the
    expatriate, seeking the same opportunities back in his/her home country or in another.

    Human capital always follows the money; that is a proven fact.

    Try to get a job in Australia in any category, if you wish and tell me if you would be granted a work-permit to work there for even the most menial of jobs as easily as you would in the Cayman Islands.

    I don’t, for one minute, believe in the morality of human nature; the evidence shows that we are all selfish creatures who are concerned with our own survival and progress first and foremeost.

    It is simply human nature.

    On all your other points, were are in agreement far more than disagreement.

    Competition for scarce space and resources is what leads to national conflicts and the situation in the Cayman Islands is as wholly reflective of these conditions as anywhere else in the world.

    If you notice, there is not one country of note anywhere in the world where there is not strife and conflict, for these very reasons.

  14. I have a bit a confusion about his whole Work Permit argument, so I am asking people who know for a bit of clarity. The one thing I need to know is are the majority of work permit for white collar office type jobs or are they mostly for blue collar jobs that most would consider menial such as Housekeeping, landscaping and domestic help ? And is it actually true that Caymanians do not want these types of jobs, if so why s there and issues with expat filling these type of positions?

  15. NJ2Cay, maybe I can help.

    The Cayman economy is said to stand on 2 legs, the finance industry and tourism. Tourism employs far more people than the finance industry ever will. The other 2 areas that employee large numbers of expats are construction and government.

    By and large Caymanians don’t like to sweat, so construction type work is out. It’s menial. Tourism related trades are a possibility, particularly if the work place comes with air conditioning, but there are no chances for advancement. A waitress is a waitress and always will be.

    That leaves government and finance, both of which typically require some form of post-secondary education. Did you know that there are almost no Caymanian nurses or school teachers? They would have to go abroad for that training, so there aren’t very many.

    There are many more examples of that sort of situation and as a few people have explained, you just can’t get a lot of highly trained staff from a community that isn’t much bigger than a small town.

  16. Thanks Old Diver, I can believe you on people not wanting to sweat, but I don’t think that attitude is isolated to Caymanians, it exist everywhere. As for the teachers, I don’t see why they would need to train abroad when usually all that’s usually required is a degree and can’t they be found at UCCI ? As well as training in fields such as Finance.

    So from what I gather you’re saying is that the main gripe about expats are about the ones filling the white collar and professional jobs and most Caymanians have no issues with expats doing menial labor?

    I still sounds to me like any young Caymanian that works hard and gets a good education should have no issues getting a job in their chosen field if it exists in Cayman unless there are just no openings. Are there actually Caymanians with say Financial, Accounting or Hotelier degrees that cannot find work ? Also, is it really morally right for a company to fire an expat to hire a Caymanian solely based on his nationality ?


    Among other courses, UCCI offers a course that leads to a Teachers Aide Certificate, which presumably doesn’t lead a person to full time employment as a teacher.

    As for attitudes among Caymanians to who is doing what job, I think the greater problem is a certain resentment that expats are there at all. One of the bigger problems stemming from the expat labor force is the fact that it’s keeping wages down.

    On the other hand the consumption by relatively free spending expats has been a big part of the Cayman economy too. Rolling over your customers in the middle of a global recession has proved to be a disaster, and it’s not over yet. That’s why Caymanians are losing jobs now.

    As for the young people, I never saw a lot of enthusiasm for anything from that group. From time to time in the dive shops we would get young guys on work experience weeks. They were useless. They had no interest in diving and even less interest in loading 50 tanks onto a boat, or the back of a truck. About the only thing that was interesting was the concept of a Tip Jar.

    If you compare that attitude to the expat dive instructor who just walked in the door looking for work, who would you take? The kid who has benefited from social promotion and effectively has about a grade 8 education? Or a guy like me who has instructor cards from more than one agency, and a commercial captains license? I even speak 3 languages.

    I paid for my education myself and who is going to pay to get that kid up to the instructor level, or a captains license? Unfortunately that sort of a situation applies to a lot of job categories and expats who are employed on Cayman. We come in with good attitude, ready to hit the ground running, usually with an excess of experience needed to do the jobs, and other beneficial skills too.

    So, it’s a complicated picture. But the one thing that I do know is that the economy of the islands is being destroyed by rollover. We haven’t seen it yet but I fully expect to see the first wave of mortgage foreclosures before the year is out.

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