A bill that creates new immigration categories for wealthy non-Caymanian residents was approved by a majority of Legislative Assembly members on a key second vote during a house meeting last week.
The Immigration (Amendment)(No. 5) Bill, 2011 also creates a separate immigration category for foreigners who have maintained a “substantial business presence” in the Cayman Islands and for visiting business people.
The second reading of the bill was approved by a 10-0 vote with five absent members on Thursday afternoon.
Premier McKeeva Bush said he believed the proposal would make it easier for travelling business people to take care of their affairs in Cayman and encourage investment within the territory.
“We in this country expect to have the kind of GDP [gross domestic product] … to expect to have the kind of per capita income, expect to have the kind of standard of living that we have without having anybody here from the outside,” Mr. Bush said during the debate. “Can this country get along without people on work permit? No, not for a long time yet.”
The bill creates a new category for individuals of independent means that allows them to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives provided they meet all investment and earnings requirements under the law. Previous residency certificates for those with independent means expired after 25 years.
The new Certificate of Permanent Residence for Persons of Independent Means would be granted without the right to work, unless the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board makes a special exception. Anyone granted the certificate would require an annual income of at least $150,000 and have invested at least $750,000 in Cayman. The person and their spouse would also have to prove a clean criminal record and good health.
The governor would establish a quota for this particular permanent residence category. The quota number would have to be made public.
A second residency certificate created by the amendment bill is a grant for “substantial business presence” similar to what exists for direct investment incentives in the Immigration Law.
The new certificate requires that the person own, directly or indirectly, a minimum of 10 per cent of the shares in a business that person has established within the Cayman Islands. That business must fall into an “approved category” of business, to be determined by regulations in the law. Such a certificate, if granted would be valid for 25 years and has the potential to be renewed. The certificate holder would still have to adhere to all other trade and business licensing requirements.
A third category makes provision for who is coming to the Islands for a “commercial activity” for a short period of time; not longer than seven days.
The Visitor’s Work Visa may be granted to anyone who would normally be eligible for a regular work permit in Cayman. The visa applies to anyone travelling here “for the purpose of engaging in commercial activity with one or more persons or entities licensed to trade in the Islands” and who would otherwise require a full work permit to carry on such business. The visitor’s visa may be approved by a senior immigration officer.
While no one voted against the bill in its second reading, North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller did note a few objections he had to the measure during his portion of debate.
Mr. Miller said he supported the Visitor’s Work Visa and other sections of the proposal. However, he said he did not support permanent residence with the right to work for persons of independent means or sections of the law that allowed 25-year residence certificates for someone who owns 10 per cent of a business venture.
Mr. Miller said he particularly did not like the bill’s “lowering” of previous requirements for business ventures that had to employ at least 50 Caymanians. The bill would allow anyone that owned at least 10 per cent of a company that employed at least 30 Caymanians to obtain a 25-year residency certificate.
The North Side member also noted the bill would let an individual who came here as a person of independent means without the right to work initially to work later on, if they received special permission.
“If you’ve gotten permanent residence because you have independent means, there should be no possibility to apply to the board to get a work permit once you have set up here,” Mr. Miller said. “Allowing people to come through the back door, so to speak, and avoid the scrutiny of the work permit processes troubles me. Caymanians are having a hard enough time now competing because of, in my view, the lack of enforcement by the boards in the requirements of the immigration law.”
Mr. Bush said this type of debate coming from Mr. Miller was hypocritical.
“He tries to make Caymanians believe he wants no other people working in Cayman but Caymanians,” Mr. Bush said. “Yet, he wants to hire hundreds of Cubans and Santo Domingan workers to work at The Ritz-Carlton. That’s the kind of hypocrisy we hear; 800 of them.
“The member from North Side should not talk about protecting Caymanian interests, he was the biggest culprit in not doing so. He has forgotten, he has forgotten this e-mail. Pass it out to them so they have it on record.”
It was unclear from the debate if the “e-mail” Mr. Bush referred to had been formally tabled in the Legislative Assembly and thereby made a public document. Under LA Standing Orders, news organisations are only allowed to report what is said and tabled in the legislature while reporting on assembly matters.
Other proposed changes in the bill seek to speed up the appeals process with regard to immigration matters.
The head of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal warned last year that if certain legal changes weren’t made, a backlog of more than 1,500 appeals of work permit, permanent residence and Caymanian status applications before the board would likely persist. “The number of appeals [has] significantly escalated since the introduction of the legislation introducing the rollover policy and the law in this area needs to be modernised to deal with procedural changes and legislative peculiarities to ensure justice for all parties,” said Immigration Appeals Tribunal chairwoman Sophia Harris in March 2011.
The bill seeks to address the problem by allowing more deputy chairmen of the appeals tribunal to hold more committee meetings with fewer members required for a quorum. Changes also set no limit to the number of appeals board members that may exist.
The amendment bill changes other significant areas of the Immigration Law, including:
Removing proof of residence requirements for the child or grandchild of a Caymanian who was born in the territory and is seeking the right to be Caymanian.
The ability to transfer special certificates for domestic workers who have responsibility to care for an elderly, sick or handicapped person and who passed away or somehow became incapacitated during the currency of their work certificate. The transfer provision would allow another caregiver to take over that certificate.
Approval of student visas for non-Caymanians may be delegated to assistant chief immigration officers.
Recreational sport fishing vessels are exempted from certain immigration requirements that apply to other commercial watercraft. Those requirements include providing a list of passengers and crew of board prior to departing Cayman Islands shores on an expedition beyond territorial waters.