The seven-year term limit policy on foreign workers’ residence was not one of the top four factors limiting business growth in the Cayman Islands, a survey completed by a sub-group of the government’s Term Limit Review Committee reported last week.
Rather, the cost of doing business was rated as the top limiting factor among the 97 responses from local businesses received in the committee’s survey conducted in late 2011. The second greatest concern regarding limited growth was the state of the world economy, followed by the reputation of the Cayman Islands and then the cost of obtaining work permits for non-Caymanian employees.
Despite its falling to fifth on the list, more than 80 per cent of the business owners surveyed did list the term limit policy as a concern related to business growth.
“Given the oft-repeated criticism that the rollover policy is hurting business, the views of the business community were clearly of central importance,” the subcommittee reported.
The Term Limit Review Committee’s overall report did not recommend abolishing the term limit, often referred to as the “rollover policy”, altogether. The government-appointed group instead recommended that the term be extended from the current seven years to 10 years.
None of the recommendations contained in the document have yet been accepted by Cabinet.
The group admitted that some data regarding the implementation of the term limit policy after it came into law in 2004 was simply not available and this made drawing conclusions about the effects of the rollover difficult, if not impossible.
It was not possible to determine how many people were rolled over and then returned to the Islands. It was also not possible to determine, per specific industry, how long non-Caymanian workers tend to remain in the Islands.
However, the sub-group opined that the seven year term limit was not the sole cause of foreign workers leaving the Cayman Islands during the period between late 2008 and 2011.
While work permit figures dropped from 24,730 in December 2007 to 19,927 in December 2011, those figures “do not mean that there were 4,803 fewer foreign workers in the Islands in December 2011”.
For instance, the sub-group pointed out that there were 1,819 people during that period granted permanent residence, or whose dependants were granted permanent residence, based on their applications submitted after staying in the Islands for eight years. Another 2,064 married Caymanians, and at least some of them would have been work permit holders although a precise figure was not available.
“It can be seen therefore that many of the 4,803 persons who were previously categorised as foreign workers did not leave the Islands, but have simply moved to a different category of residence,” the report noted.
The Caymanian Compass looked at the same figures for permanent residence late last year, although the newspaper attempted to count the number of foreign workers from December 2008 to the number of non-Caymanian permit holders residing here in October 2011.
The permit holders for December 2008 were higher, some 26,517, and had dropped to 19,378 by 6 October, 2011.
The majority of the residence grants between September 2008 and November 2011 went to spouses of Caymanians (1,558). Those applications are rarely declined, according to the figures provided by the Immigration Department, having been approved more than 80 per cent of the time since September 2008.
Applications for permanent residence from foreign individuals who worked in Cayman for eight years and applied in their own right to stay here were declined 60 per cent of the time between September 2008 and November 2011. According to Immigration Department figures, 1,414 people were granted permanent residence as a result of those applications, and 2,099 were refused during the period.
The overall number of applications for permanent residence declined sharply between July 2009 and November 2011, when compared with applications made between September 2008 and June 2009.
Fewer than 50 people during the past three years have been approved to legally reside here as the dependant of a Caymanian; it is not clear whether that figure includes children. A total of 333 people were granted the right to remain and work as a dependant of a permanent resident holder.
Cayman’s Immigration Law operates a tiered system of progression. A foreign-born worker is only allowed to stay here up to seven years consecutively, unless they obtain what’s known as key employee status – which allows them to remain for an additional two years. The extra two years allows individuals to apply for permanent residence; the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives. The 7,000-plus person drop in work permit numbers included a decline in those individuals who were “working as an operation of law”; in other words, awaiting decisions on permanent residence applications and appeals of work permit denials.
It is likely the majority of the 1,414 people granted permanent residence between September 2008 and November 2011 were included at some point on that list. In that instance, those individuals would have been taken off the work permit-holder lists and added as permanent residents; still part of Cayman’s population, just no longer showing up as work permit holders. It is also likely this is what occurred with the majority of the 333 people who became dependants of work permit holders with the right to work during that period.
It is impossible to determine from the figures presented by the Immigration Department how many of the 1,558 people granted residence by way of marriage to Caymanians previously held work permits. Any change in their immigration status because of that would have, again, taken them off the work permit list and made them part of Cayman’s permanent population.
However, even if all of those people were added together as previous work permit-holders – 1,414 permanent residence grantees, their 333 working dependants, and 1,558 spouses of Caymanians – it would equal far less than half of the work permit decline since in Cayman since December 2008.
Read the report of the Term Limit Review Committee by clicking here.