Close to 1,400 foreign workers received Term Limit Exemption Permits by 31 December to stave off being “rolled over” from the Cayman Islands at the end of their seven-year residency.
The Term Limit Exemption Permits, or TLEPs, were brought into being by an amendment to the Immigration Law that took effect in October 2011. The temporary permits can only be extended up to two years from the initial start date, 28 October, 2011, no matter when they were issued to the worker.
According to Immigration Department statistics, at 31 December, 2012, some 1,250 workers had been initially granted a one-year exemption permit, allowing them to stay beyond what normally would have been their residency term-limit. In addition, 143 workers got renewals for an additional exemption permit.
Judging from statistics compiled by immigration officials, the 1,393 TLEP-holders make up about 49 per cent of the non-Caymanian work permit holders who would have reached their seven-year term limit between October 2011 and December 2012. Put another way, it appears that nearly half of the 2,861 individuals that the Immigration Department said would normally have had to leave between October 2011 and December 2012 ended up staying on TLEPs.
Typically, non-Caymanian 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 territory’s immigration law in early October 2011 that allowed for up to a two-year suspension of enforcement on term limit provisions for those qualifying foreign workers. That legal suspension is what has been granted to the 1,393 workers now on Term Limit Exemption Permits.
However, according to the amended law, the additional time spent in Cayman on a TLEP will not be allowed to count toward an individual’s continuous residency application.
During a debate in the Legislative Assembly just prior to the passage of the amended Immigration Law, former Premier McKeeva Bush said the TLEP extensions would not lead to a flood of permanent residence applications. “Any time spent working here on a Term Limit Exemption Permit will not count toward the eight-year residence requirement in order to apply for permanent residence,” Mr. Bush said. “Any suggestion that we are creating another bottleneck of permanent residence applications is … unwarranted.”
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said 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 expiration of all Term Limit Exemption Permits is set to occur in late October of this year. It will be left up to the government of the day to decide what, if anything, should be done with those individuals.
The reason TLEPs were created under former Premier Bush’s administration has to do with a nettlesome problem created in part by September 2004’s Hurricane Ivan and the massive influx of foreign labour that arrived in Cayman in the year or so after the monster storm struck.
Sherri Bodden-Cowan, the former chairwoman of the government’s immigration term-limit review committee, said that with the influx of foreign workers that came to the Cayman Islands in late 2004 and in 2005 following Ivan, it was possible that thousands of people would either have to apply for key status or leave the islands.
It is not possible to determine from available immigration statistics how many people who arrived after Hurricane Ivan actually stayed in Cayman the full seven years. Cayman’s labour force statistics clearly show a massive influx of people arrived in Cayman during 2005, compared to a sharp drop in the population around the time Ivan occurred.
By the fall of 2004, Cayman’s total workforce was just 23,453 people, with fewer than 11,000 non-Caymanians in that group, according to the government’s Economics and Statistics Office.
A year later, the workforce had swelled to 36,767 people with 17,439 non-Caymanians in the work force – an increase of about 6,500 non-Caymanians in the labour force in just 12 months.