There is a long history concerning the seven-year term limit
policy in the Cayman Islands and it may not be immediately apparent to all
observers why the policy – which took effect in January 2004 – is needed at
To say the issue is somewhat complex might be something of
an understatement. However, Cayman is fortunate enough to have experienced
lawyers like Sherri Bodden-Cowan to help the country wade through the morass of
the so-called ‘rollover policy’.
Generally speaking, here’s the problem: Previously, Mrs.
Bodden-Cowan said foreign workers were allowed – in some cases – to remain in
the Islands on work permits for as long as 20, 30, even approaching 40 years.
Legally, those employees maintained the status of “guest workers” without
obtaining any voting rights or privileges of citizenship.
A successful court challenge to the government’s previous
moratorium on grants of Caymanian status, which had been the penultimate step
toward citizenship, meant that some 6,000 long-term Island residents were
eligible to apply for that status following the court’s 2001 ruling.
That 2001 ruling ultimately led to the controversial grants
of Caymanian status by Cabinet in 2003 and the subsequent development of the
seven year term-limit policy for foreign workers, often referred to locally as
the rollover policy.
The precise legal reasons for the rollover policy are often
veiled in a haze of emotionally-charged political debate, which has never
really subsided since 2004.
Cayman’s Immigration Law has gone through numerous changes
since then, including the reduction in the “break in stay” period for foreign
workers from two years to one year. That break is the period of time someone
who is working must leave the Islands after seven consecutive years of
residence if they do not have Caymanian status, permanent residence, key
employee status, or if they are not married to a Caymanian.
Former Premier McKeeva Bush spoke of the possibility of
reducing that break to just one month. Other discussions have indicated that
the break in stay period could be reduced to three months, or more recently,
that it could be done away with altogether.
This reduction of the break in stay to what’s essentially an
extended vacation has led to the obvious question from the public; “why have
the rollover, then”? To which the usual answer is; “to protect Caymanian
jobs”. But, according to government’s own statistical reports, the rollover
hasn’t done that at all.
Taking just a cursory look at the numbers available to all
members of the public, it would seem that protection is not what has happened
under the rollover policy.
The population of the Cayman Islands grew from about 44,000
(pre-Hurricane Ivan) in late 2003 to about 57,000 at the end of 2008, roughly
the first five years of the term limit policy, from the beginning of ’04 to the
end of ‘08. Since then, a number of foreign workers have left – official
population figures here dropped below 53,000 at the end of 2009 – but those
departures are largely due to the downturn in the local and world economies,
which have caused jobs to be lost.
A 2009 government economic report seems to bear out that the
jobs are leaving with the people. Unemployment among Caymanians reached nearly
ten per cent toward the end of ’09 and has stayed around that level in 2010 and
2011 annual reports. If the goal of the rollover was to create opportunities
for Caymanians, the numbers again seem to show that’s not happening.
The rollover actually doesn’t prevent all foreigners from
gaining citizenship rights, it merely slows that process and weeds out certain
individuals. Those who receive permanent residence, followed by Caymanian
status and naturalisation can end up voting in a process that takes about 15
years. Spouses of Caymanians can also receive Caymanian status in a similar
“The purpose of enforcing a rollover policy is to ensure
that non-key employees take a legitimate break in stay so that we as a country
are not forced because of legal or moral obligations to offer such long term
residents security of tenure,” said Mrs. Bodden-Cowan, who was the head of
government’s Immigration Review Team in 2010.
A related point is that the rollover policy actually
protects foreign workers from what some pundits have referred to as “indentured
servitude” i.e. – working for decades without real financial or social security
and without any other privileges normally afforded to citizens.
“Irresponsible politicians in the past have suggested that
the purpose is to throw expats off the Islands so that Caymanians can take
their jobs,” Mrs. Bodden-Cowan said. “In some instances the employment of a
Caymanian has been a welcome side effect, (but) it was not the purpose of the
Permanent residence: What
it is and how you get it
Permanent residence, or PR as it is often referred to, is
the right for a non-Caymanian to live in the Cayman Islands for the rest of
their lives. PR is not the same as having Caymanian Status as it does not give
the holder the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.
There are several types of permanent residence and not all
types give the holder the right to work in the Cayman Islands. For instance,
those who apply for and are granted PR on the basis that they are of
independent means or retirees do not generally have the right to work in the
Cayman Islands. In addition, spouses and dependents of those who have been
granted permanent residence with the right to work won’t necessarily have
that right as well.
For most non-Caymanians, the most common way of obtaining PR
is to first live legally in the jurisdiction for a period of eight years. Under
the current law, most non-Caymanians have to leave the jurisdiction after seven
years of work permits, but employers can apply to have certain employees
designated ‘key employees’, which, if granted, allows them to receive up to
nine years of work permits. After these key employees have resided in Cayman
legally for eight years, they can submit an application for PR with a
non-refundable $300 application fee.
Applications for permanent residence are determined by a
points system where people are given points for various attributes, which
include nationality, wealth, investments in the Cayman Islands, skills and
education, the need for people in their occupation in the local labour force,
contributions to the community and familial relationships to Caymanians.
Applicants must receive at least 100 points out of the 205 possible to receive
Those who get the requisite number of points must pay a
grant fee that is based on their salary. In addition, people who are granted PR
must pay an annual fee that is equal to what their work permit fee would be if
they still had a work permit.