The number of key employee applications made by businesses on behalf of foreign workers dropped by nearly 40 per cent between 2011 and 2012, according to Immigration Department records.
In 2011, the department recorded 338 total key employee applications, with 220 of those being approved and 118 denied.
Last year, immigration boards approved 152 key employee applications and turned down 51 for a total of 203 – a 40 per cent drop in applications from year-to-year.
Key employee status is required for any non-Caymanian workers who wish to stay beyond the seven-year period of their residency term limit and apply for permanent residence, unless those workers are married to a Caymanian. Key employee status extends the residency term limit to nine years, giving the worker enough time to legally apply to remain for the rest of their lives.
A worker designated as a key employee is deemed to possess particular skills or experience in their field and is considered critically important to their employer.
The Immigration Department tracked active key employee designations as of 31 December for all categories of employment.
Most key employees in the Cayman Islands as of that date – 327 – were either employed as professional managers or in professional fields [accountants, fund administrators, auditors, doctors, lawyers, teachers and the like]. The second largest group of key employee status holders were technicians and associate professionals with 100 grantees active. Craft and trades-related workers held 49 key employee designations as of 31 December.
Term limit exemptions
A relatively new group of work permit holders that has been allowed to stay beyond the typical seven-year term limit on residency includes those granted term limit exemption permits.
According to Immigration Department data, between 28 October, 2011, and 30 September, 2012, exactly 1,372 people were successful in applying for a permit extension.
The extension, however, only applies through 28 October, 2013. What happens to those individuals after that date is largely unknown. According to Immigration Law, they would have to leave the jurisdiction after their term limit exemption period expires since the law states they would not be eligible to apply for permanent residence even if they had lived in Cayman for eight consecutive years.
Some attorneys and lawmakers have questioned whether that legislation might leave Cayman open to court challenges over residency status.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson acknowledged last week that the status of term limit exemption permit holders is one of the matters legislators are hoping to address in upcoming revisions to the Immigration Law.
“I know that the government takes this matter very seriously and they are well aware there are a number of people whose term limit exemption permits expire in October,” Mr. Manderson said.
However, the extension permits are not the only issue for lawmakers to work out. Recommendations from the former term limit review committee have been presented to Cabinet and are still under review. Whether those can all be dealt with prior to the Legislative Assembly’s dissolution on 26 March is questionable.
Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin noted earlier this month that the term limit review report recommended, among other things, that Cayman’s current seven-year term limit be extended to 10 years and that all expatriate workers who stay for at least eight years be allowed to apply for permanent residence.
“What we’re committed to doing is ensuring that we continue this work,” Mr. Anglin said. “There will be certain recommendations coming to Cabinet imminently for us to consider.
“Whether that change happens between now and May, we obviously can’t say,” he added. “I would hope that members would see this as an issue of urgent importance … because we certainly would not want any of our competition getting ahead of us.”
Immigration data also revealed that the special economic zone created within the entity known as Cayman Enterprise City has accumulated 49 work permits, with 18 of those applications being received and approved in the last quarter of 2012.
The special economic zone permit applications are processed administratively and are typically less expensive than most professional job category permits issued to companies outside the zone.
Cayman Enterprise City companies are not allowed to conduct business within the local marketplace, but may conduct business internationally.
The special economic zone includes Cayman Internet and Technology Park, Cayman Media Park, Cayman Biotechnology Park, Cayman Commodities and Derivatives Park, Cayman Outsource Park and Cayman International Academic Park.