Foreign workers who are exempted from Cayman’s seven-year term limit on residency under amendments to the Immigration Law passed last week won’t be able to apply for permanent residence – even if the exemption period allows them to remain in the country for eight years or more.
Typically, foreign-born employees who reside in Cayman are required to leave after seven years of continuous residence here unless they are granted what’s known as ‘key employee status’, which allows a worker to remain up to nine years. During that added time the foreign worker can apply for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
Legislators approved changes to the country’s immigration law Friday evening that will essentially allow for up to a two year suspension of enforcement on term limit provisions for those qualifying foreign workers.
Once the amendment bill is signed into law, a company can apply for a Term Limit Exemption Permit for employees that would normally be required to depart. If such a permit is granted, the person will be allowed to remain for an additional year. At the end of the first year, an employer has the option to apply for a second exemption year for that employee, provided that no qualified Caymanian applied for the position.
Plans to suspend the country’s seven-year term limit provision, often called the rollover policy, were announced last month by Premier McKeeva Bush. However, at that time, Mr. Bush’s Immigration Review Team chairperson, Sherri Bodden-Cowan, said it was likely individuals who are exempted from the seven-year term limit and stay up to eight years would be allowed to apply for permanent residence.
That was not what the legislation passed on Friday indicated.
“Any time spent working here on a Term Limit Exemption Permit will not count towards the eight-year residence requirement in order to apply for permanent residence,” Mr. Bush said Friday. “Any suggestion that we are creating another bottleneck of permanent residence applications is … unwarranted.”
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said Friday during his debate on amendments to the Immigration Law that the proposal could lead to a different kind of bottleneck. Mr. McLaughlin said the bill created “the legal fiction that you are lawfully a resident, but you are really not resident for the purposes of the law”.
“With all of the potential that brings for legal challenge, on a number of fronts … I cannot quite understand why the government would expose itself and the country to that possibility,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The suspension of the term limit provisions of the Immigration Law will apply to anyone whose term limit is reached 30 days prior to the amended law coming into effect – the ‘appointed date’ as it is referred to in the legislation. Mr. Bush emphasised that any and all applicants for the term limit exemptions would be scrutinised by the Work Permit Board or the chief immigration officer.
“This new facility is not a rubber-stamping exercise,” Mr. Bush said. “But we believe that, as it presently operates, the [term limit] policy is standing in the way of our economic recovery.”
Mr. McLaughlin said it was not just the term limit policy that was responsible for Cayman’s recent economic decline.
“It is the administration [of immigration] that frustrates many, many people,” he said, “in particular, foreign companies that are coming here for the first time. “There is no need for all this convoluted stuff about creating term limit exemption permits and new definitions about cut-off dates and the creation of ten-year work permits. We don’t have to do fancy footwork with the legislation and say that even though you are a resident in the Cayman Islands lawfully, that does not count.”
The amendment bill approved by a majority of Legislative Assembly members allows the immigration boards or the chief immigration officer to approve work permits of up to ten years for select industries, a first in Cayman Immigration Law. Those specific industries were not identified in the text of the amendment bill, but will be set out in upcoming regulations to the law, officials said. Those companies who receive 10-year work permits for foreign employees will be required to contribute to a ‘national training initiative’.
Also, provisions in the bill allow for up to five-year work permits for those employed as domestic helpers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and ministers of religion. Anyone authorised by the Business Staffing Plan board can also receive up to a five-year work permit, no matter what occupation they are in, according to the legislation.
Cayman’s Immigration Law previously allowed to five-year work permits, but the issuance of those is fairly rare.
What happens after?
Opposition Leader McLaughlin questioned what would happen to the term limit policy after the expiration of the two-year exemption period.
“This legislation … is going to create major uncertainty in the short term and real problems long-term when we come to try and re-impose a new of modified rollover policy and legislation,” he said.
Premier Bush disagreed on Friday.
“Clearly, this extended term limit affords those persons affected a much greater sense of security with respect to their tenure here,” he said. “Their employers also can make business decisions with confidence, knowing that they will be able to retain their most important employees.”
Mr. Bush, as well as Ms Bodden-Cowan have said that a number of individuals – possibly as high as 6,000 people – will meet their term limit within the next year or two. This, they argued, would create a mass exodus that would hurt the already depressed Cayman Islands economy.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said Friday that he doesn’t buy it.
“Where are these big piles and thousands of people who are going to leave here and create a great vacuum in the economy in the next 18 months?”