Some job categories could be reserved for Caymanians only under new legislation allowing political leaders to set quotas limiting work permits for certain professions.
Hotel concierges, human resources managers and trainee accountants are among the professions that could potentially be closed off to foreigners, Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Monday.
Amendments to the Immigration Law empowering Cabinet to create “restricted areas of employment” were pushed through during Monday’s Legislative Assembly session.
It will be up to Cabinet to decide what limits to set on which professions, depending on the needs of the day. Key employees, non-Caymanian permanent residents and spouses of Caymanians are among those who will be excluded from restrictions.
A committee stage amendment to the bill means Cabinet’s decisions will have to be approved by the Legislative Assembly before they come into force.
Opponents of the bill dismissed it as “window dressing” and “electioneering” that didn’t add anything to the powers already contained in current immigration legislation.
Mr. Manderson said it would complement the current law and provide protection and inspiration for generations of Caymanians.
“We are providing hope,” he said. “Caymanians have to know that if they go out and become qualified they have an excellent opportunity to move up the ladder and get the best jobs.
“The government has to provide that opportunity,” he added. “Too often we hear of government not doing enough. Where is the protection? It is right here in this bill.”
The bill is the end product of a debate begun in 2010 by George Town legislator Ellio Solomon, who brought a private member’s motion calling on government to consider reserving some job categories for Caymanians.
Employment Minister Rolston Anglin, who was involved with the drafting of the bill, said it would allow Cabinet to set policy on immigration rather than leaving it to immigration officers to handle on a case-by-case basis.
“This bill will enable Cabinet to make critical decisions around how it is that we are going to determine what trades, jobs, areas of employment ought to have a quota put in place.”
He said the quota could be zero for some professions.
Ezzard Miller, an independent lawmaker representing North Side, said the bill was unnecessary.
“The current Immigration Law contains all of the criteria that is needed to ensure Caymanians get all of the jobs in this country that they are qualified for,” Mr. Miller said. “What we don’t have is the political will to appoint boards which are willing to enforce the existing legislation.”
Alden McLaughlin, leader of the opposition, said the bill was an exercise in “self deception”. He said it would not help create jobs for Caymanians and could end up having negative repercussions.
“We are going to get to where only jobs at the very bottom end of the economy are the exclusive province of Caymanians,” he said. “That is the stigma we are going to create by going down this road.” Former Premier McKeeva Bush, a representative from West Bay, supported the legislative changes. But Mr. Bush argued the best way to ensure Caymanians get jobs was through education and training and working with business to ensure big firms remain in the Cayman Islands. He added that capital projects he had tried to get off the ground, including work on cruise ship berthing facilities, Owen Roberts International Airport and the sewage system, would have helped create jobs for Caymanians.
At the moment, there are 20,396 people on work permits in Cayman. The Work Permit Board refused 4,352 permit applications over the past two years, including 672 that were declined on the grounds that a qualified Caymanian was available.
Mr. Manderson said those figures showed there was the will to enforce existing legislation. He said he believes the new law will broaden the power of government to dictate policy on immigration.
He proposed a few examples of positions that could be reserved for Caymanians, including trainee accountants, hotel concierges and housekeepers.
“The laws are being enforced yet we continue to have Caymanians out of work … In these austere times, where jobs are hard to come by, this bill provides real opportunities for Caymanians.”