Cayman employers are looking down the road at 28 October, assessing their options and sizing up their work force as they face expiry of hundreds of two-year Term Limit Extension Permits.
The issue is sensitive, bearing implications for local employment, economic recovery and the cost of living, and particularly as candidates scramble to position themselves for late-May elections, reflecting on perennial issues of work permits and immigration.
Most-recent employment statistics from 31 December are instructive, indicating a total Cayman Islands workforce of 38,800. Of those, most – 36,400 – are employed. Only 2,410 are unemployed, but that burden appears to fall largely on Caymanians.
The local workforce, according to the Economic and Statistics Office, numbers 18,400, but suffers 10.5 per cent unemployment. While an enormous number, raw figures indicate something a little less dire: Approximately 16,500 Caymanians are employed and 1,925 are not.
Among a foreign workforce of 24,500, however, almost 20,000 are employed and only 485 are not.
In late 2011, seeking a sense of direction for immigration and work permit policies, and fearing a compounded economic slowdown after a sudden exodus of experienced expatriate workers, the administration launched a wholesale review of the permit system and its term limits.
Part of the study involved temporary suspension of those limits, creating in October 2011 a two-year Term Limit Exemption Permit. The new document enabled anyone approaching termination of their seven-year residency to extend their stay up to a limit of 28 October, 2012.
Five months remain for the approximately 1,500 TLEPs, and while changes have been proposed to the immigration system, little legislation has passed. As a result, employers are anticipating a cluster of October expatriate departures – and the launch of recruitment and replacement exercises.
While the potential impact on Caymanian unemployment is clear, reducing the 10.5 per cent jobless rate will rely on matching available workers to requisite skills. More than one political candidate, however, suspecting only patchwork enforcement of Caymanian-first employment regulations, has vowed renewed scrutiny.
Caymans two largest employers – after government – are already planning late-year recruitment programmes in the face of TLEP expirations. While the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman was unwilling to say how many jobs were at stake, both the hotel and Dart Enterprises are looking at their options, keeping an open mind.
Leading law firm, Walker’s, declined to discuss its plans, but insisted that recruitment among Caymanians remained a strong priority.
“None of this is a surprise; we have been communicating that to our ladies and gentlemen for the last one-and-half years to two years, and have been getting information from Immigration about end dates,” says Valerie Hoppe, assistant director of human resources for the Ritz-Carlton.
The Ritz properties employ 800 people, she says, and among those scheduled to finish in October “we have been giving classes on writing resumes and giving interviews when they move on.
“Different nationalities wonder where they can work, of course, and a lot want to go to the US, but not all of them can. Those from Jamaica, for example, can work anywhere in Caricom”, the 15-member Caribbean Community for economic cooperation.
“We have been reaching out to the local community about new positions, talking to the National Workforce Development Agency and to schools, looking for talent.
“We are wide open to anyone, of course, but our priority is Caymanians. We prefer that and it’s the right thing to do,” she says.
Because the Ritz-Carlton seeks the best candidates, expatriates are welcome, Ms Hoppe says, but points to the cost of work permits as an added expense.
In any case, she says, “there will be some kind of changeover on 28 October at the Ritz. Luckily for us, October is still a slow month for tourism, so we can recruit normally, naturally. In November and December, it starts to pick up again, so there will be a lot of recruitment then.”
Kathy Jackson, Dart Enterprises senior manager for corporate communications, says the company’s “core policy is to recruit, train and retain Caymanians.”
“The policy makes sound, strategic business sense; and the result is that with roughly 270 employees in Dart Enterprises and its affiliated corporate companies, and about 400 more in the retail/restaurant group of companies, Dart has only 12 TLEPs.”
While the low number surprises many observers, Ms Jackson attributes it Dart’s long-standing efforts in the community. She describes those 12 as almost accidental: “They are for positions which, when advertised, generated little to no interest from qualified Caymanians or, in some cases, from any Caymanians at all.”
TLEP legislation prevents extension of the permits, meaning Dart will look to recruit replacements for half-a-dozen of them.
If a renewal option existed, she said, “we would only be seeking to renew seven. Without that option, Dart “would consider recruiting again to fill the positions as the majority were positions that generated little interest from qualified Caymanians.”
The remaining five slots are likely to be discontinued. “For some, the specialty need no longer exists as it was attached to a finite project; and in others the position will not be continued. For those remaining TLEPs, there are Caymanians in training in some instances,” Ms Jackson says.
“Dart is always eager to find and employ Caymanians who are interested in joining our company, whether as a start to their career and developing the necessary skills, or in furtherance of their career. We will continue to do so.”
Finally, Walker’s, while acknowledging TLEPs, declined to quantify the situation, saying only that it would continue to recruit Caymanians throughout the firm, from legal secretaries to articled clerks and attorneys.
In March, according to a press release, the firm celebrated four graduates from its 18-month Junior Legal Secretary Training Programme, while two others, having completed Walker’s Articled Clerk Training Programme, were admitted at the same time as attorneys-at-law.
“This takes the number of Caymanian attorneys trained and admitted by Walkers to 26 since the formation of the firm’s Trainee Committee in 2002,” the release said.