Foreign workers who either have just been forced to depart the Cayman Islands after reaching their seven-year term limit – or who are about to be “rolled over” – can now have their employers apply to the Immigration Department for the right to remain in the Islands up to another two years.
Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor on Thursday signed changes to the country’s Immigration Law suspending the current seven-year term limit on foreign workers’ residence for those who qualify for exemptions from the term-limit policy.
The exemption period can only last a total two years if the foreign worker’s employer successfully applies for a Term Limit Exemption Permit.
The bill’s fate had been cast in some doubt following a constitutional challenge over its passage, but Governor Taylor indicated Thursday the proposal passed by the legislature in September is legal.
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 foreign-born worker to remain up to nine years. During that added time the foreign worker can apply for permanent residence – the right to remain in the Cayman Islands for the rest of their lives.
If a Term Limit Exemption Permit is granted, the person receiving it will be allowed to remain for one 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 no qualified Caymanian sought the position.
The additional period of stay in the Cayman Islands under a Term Limit Exemption Permit would not count toward the eight years required to obtain permanent residence, according to the law.
The Term Limit Exemption Permit is expected to be a temporary measure while public and private sector entities review the country’s current Immigration Law. Premier McKeeva Bush has said he hopes that review would be completed by April.
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 any and all applicants for the term limit exemptions would be scrutinised by the Work Permit Board or the chief immigration officer.
The amended law also allows the immigration boards or the chief immigration officer to approve work permits of up to 10 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 up to five-year work permits, but the issuance of those is rare.
The constitutional issue raised by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller earlier this month involved two amendment bills passed in the most recent session of the Legislative Assembly that were not published at least 21 days before the start of the LA meeting in which they were introduced. One of the bills proposed the Immigration Law amendments, the second was a plan to allow Caymanians to use their retirement funds to buy a home, land or to pay off an existing mortgage.
“They are inconsistent with the Constitution in that they were not, at the time they were moved, debated and passed by the Legislative Assembly in compliance with section 77 (2) of the Constitution,” Mr. Miller wrote to Governor Taylor.
Section 77 (2) of the Constitution Order states the 21-day publishing period for bills should be observed “except in a case of emergency”.
“The Premier was unable to present the ‘case of emergency’ as required by section 77 (2) or any certification by yourself as governor or by the Cabinet that there was or is a case of emergency,” Mr. Miller wrote.
Representatives with Mr. Taylor’s office said the governor wrote to Mr. Miller on Thursday to notify the MLA of his decision in signing the amendment to the Immigration Law. The other legislation Mr. Miller was concerned with, the pension amendment bill, had not been signed by Mr. Taylor as of Friday.