Immigration reform is one of the key issues in the upcoming
election, not only because about 1,300 term limit exemption permit holders
would have to leave the Islands by the time the exemption expires at the end of
October but also because, according to many, the current system of the rollover
is not working.
Caymanian voters meanwhile will insist that any modification
of immigration rules and regulations should not restrict employment
opportunities for Caymanians and some candidates say more needs to be done
through the immigration system to ensure that unemployed Caymanians find jobs.
Bermuda, which functioned as the model for the introduction
of a term limit in Cayman, scrapped its six-year rollover policy with immediate
effect after general elections in December of 2012 resulted in a new
government. The new Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said the measure was one
of the steps Bermuda needed to take for its economy to grow. He also stated
that the rollover policy in Bermuda had been identified as a barrier to job
Former Premier McKeeva Bush believes Cayman should follow
Bermuda’s example and abandon the rollover policy, which means work permit
holders have to leave the Islands after seven years unless they are granted key
Mr. Bush said at a United Democratic Party meeting in West
Bay in February the policy was damaging the Islands’ economy and handing an
advantage to competitors in other jurisdictions.
Disputing the logic of “more work permits, less jobs” he said
that when financial services companies decide to leave the Cayman Islands
because of an inflexible immigration regime “then our secretaries, our clerks,
our young Caymanian girls that work in those industries lose their job”.
During his term as premier, Mr. Bush suspended the rollover
for a period of two years to give government the time to commission a review of
immigration policies. A Term Limit Review Committee presented its report in
June last year. It recommended that the term limit for foreign workers should
be maintained, but extended from seven to 10 years.
The committee also recommended that the key employee
designation should be abolished and that all foreigners are given the right to
apply for permanent residency between their seventh and eighth years of
Government, however, has not implemented any of the changes
recommended by the review committee. Mr. Bush said in February that during his
tenure he lacked the support from colleagues in his administration to force
changes to the rollover policy.
Mr. Bush found an unlikely ally on the issue in opposition
leader Alden McLaughlin who in 2011 presented a plan that called for a repeal
of the seven-year term limit for foreign workers and the elimination of key
employee status. Both provisions would allow foreign workers to stay long
enough in Cayman to apply for permanent residence.
“There should be a general provision, which provides that
all persons on work permit are entitled to apply for permanent residence after
they have lived in the Cayman Islands for eight years and that they must do so
by year 10 if they wish to remain in the Cayman Islands beyond that point,” Mr.
McLaughlin suggested at the time.
He further argued that the criteria for granting permanent
residence should strike a balance. “We should not set the bar for permanent
residence so high that only professional and managerial persons can ever hope
to achieve it,” he said. “Nor should we set it so low that just about anyone
However, not every candidate would follow the
recommendations by the Term Limit Review Team.
George Town PPM candidate Joey Hew said he is a proponent of
immigration reform with a ‘Caymanian first’ policy that holistically addresses
the challenges of the Caymanian work force, small businesses and the larger
corporate firms. Mr. Hew only partially supports the recommendations by the
Term Limit Review Team.
“I am of the belief that we should remove the term limit on
certain categories and lay out well defined policies that would be handled by
paid personnel that understand the law, restrictions and criteria set out in
the policy.” Mr. Hew said there should only be the need for an appointed board
to hear appeals on “the more delicate matters and the term limit decisions”.
Gregg Anderson, independent candidate for Bodden Town, would
like to see a separate department, such as a Department of Labour/Human
Resources, handle employment related matters. He argues that to manage the
needed inward migration, Cayman needs a combination of population management
measures in conjunction with a new Immigration regime.
“I believe that our Immigration Department should deal
solely with immigration, nationality and passport matters. Immigration controls
were not intended to be, and cannot be used as, a means to manage the size and
composition of our population,” he said.
A separate department should “theoretically have a better
grasp of our available local human capital and be in a better position to
decide on the granting of work permits etc”, he said.
Mr. Anderson believes the immigration situation is the
result of “ongoing willful reluctance to enforce our immigration laws”.
“We’ve tinkered with these laws too often based the ‘spectre
of industry flight’ bandied about by doomsayers of our major industries,” he
“There is sufficient anecdotal evidence and in some cases
proof (see the Law Reform Commission Report), that many of our major businesses
blatantly continue to contravene our Immigration Laws with impunity eg
advertising/specifying job positions according to an incumbent’s or preferred
candidate’s experience, skills and qualifications to dissuade and prevent
Caymanians from acquiring these positions.”
Key employee status
Mr. Hew said the same applies to the key employee status
designation, which failed to deliver what was intended by the law.
“We are not seeing the upward movement by Caymanians in the
non-key positions, but simply a turnover of work permits, or in the worst cases
appeals on term limits resulting in the person being allowed to remain on the
Island until they have gained the right to apply for residency,” Mr. Hew said.
He claimed that the country is not seeing “the transfer of knowledge to
Caymanians allowing them the upward mobility as intended by the law”, in part
because “the private sector is not abiding by the spirit of the law”.
Mr. Anderson also feels key employee status has failed and
should be eliminated. “[It] is a career stopper for Caymanians – it puts a
steel ceiling in place that’s virtually impossible for them to transcend.”
In his view, employers should be forced to prove more
diligently that they were unable to recruit suitable local labour despite
intense efforts and provide documentation to evidence the efforts they have
made, as well as an overview of the candidates with an explanation of the
specific qualifications they were lacking.
“For special cases, Immigration should request an employer
to intensify his recruitment efforts versus just rubberstamping a key employee
permit application,” Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Bush’s former Cabinet members who form the current
government did not bring any amendments to the Immigration Law before the
Legislative Assembly. Rolston Anglin, minister for education, financial
services, training and employment, said that the immigration amendment bill was
not ready and could therefore not be dealt with before the general elections in
While it is no so surprise that the controversial issue is
not addressed so close before the election, it leaves about 1,300 term limit
exemption permit holders in a predicament as the rollover exemption period
expires on 28 October this year.
Mr. Hew said each of the term limit exemption permit holders
will need to be assessed individually.
“Companies have now had an extra year to assess the
situation and should be allowed to present a case as to why the ‘rollover
employee’ is essential to their businesses and what efforts have they made to
replace them with a Caymanian or otherwise.” He advocates separating
larger companies from smaller businesses, which have more limited resources and
“During these difficult economic times created by four years
of a stagnant economy some smaller businesses may have not had the means to
train individuals or have the time and ability to recruit overseas and
familiarise someone with the intimacies of a small operation, where as larger
organisations should be in a position to do so given the extension.”
Larger companies are also in better position to create
employment opportunities for Caymanians, Hew said.
“We have to be more open with the larger companies and
request they be the same as I feel that much more can be done by them to allow
opportunities for Caymanians to receive the dedicated training needed to fill
the positions when available, we cannot continue to simply replace one
expatriate with another every six years as it is neither fair to the Caymanian
or expatriate,” Mr. Hew said. Mr. Anderson, in turn, does not
support a further extension of the rollover exemption. “There are educated
Caymanians who are unemployed, not just semi-skilled and unskilled people,” he
said, demanding that in the six months leading up to October a collaborative
effort should be made between the employers, and the immigration and labour
departments to transition able, qualified, unemployed Caymanians into these
Employers would have to prove that TLEP holders are
absolutely essential to their business, he said. Like Mr. Hew, Mr. Anderson
also feels that firms had enough time to prepare for the end of the deadline.
“So rather than asking us to change our laws once again
[employers should] change their approach to hiring Caymanians,” he noted.
But he also stated, “Likewise, Caymanians need to change
their attitudes and approach to work, accept positions that may at first glance
seem beneath their stature, and recognise that they have to deliver world-class
performance in this hyper-competitive global environment.”