There are some fairly big differences between the Cayman Islands’ two official political parties in their views on how the country’s immigration system should be changed.
However, the People’s Progressive Movement and the United Democratic Party are alike in one thing – they’re pushing for major alterations of existing work permit policies in their respective political manifestos.
The United Democratic Party has advocated getting rid of the country’s term limit on foreign residents altogether.
The Progressives want to keep some term limit intact, but eliminate the mechanism known as ‘key employee status’ and allow everyone who stays in Cayman for more than seven years to be allowed to apply for permanent residence.
The UDP plan
The UDP starts with the premise that the seven-year term limit on foreign workers’ residence has had a negative economic impact and is making Cayman noncompetitive.
“Eliminating the term limit policy will help spark economic growth and create employment opportunities for all Caymanians,” the manifesto states.
At the same time, the party wants to “manage expectations of security of tenure”.
To that end, the UDP manifesto proposes to: “Require all work permit holders to sign a declaration confirming their understanding that the law does not confer rights of permanency and that the holder has no expectation of such.”
That proposal is similar to what Bermuda does with all its work permit holders.
However, Bermuda has no established path to citizenship for its work permit holders, unlike Cayman.
The UDP also wants to increase labour inspections at work sites and focus on training Caymanian workers to take specific jobs that are available within the market.
With 54 per cent of the workforce being non-Caymanian, the UDP said it would seek to “control the growth of work permits in certain categories until Caymanian unemployment is reduced to an acceptable level”.
That would only apply to certain jobs, and not those where no Caymanians are available to fill the positions.
Similar ‘Caymanian-only’ jobs legislation was passed by the Legislative Assembly in March, but left it to Cabinet to specify which jobs would be designated in such a manner.
“We need to depend less on foreign workers,” the UDP manifesto states.
The Progressives plan
The PPM also admits economic and competitiveness concerns with regard to the continued existence of the country’s immigration policies.
“We must strike the right balance between the understandable desire of business to operate with minimum regulatory control and the legitimate aspirations of Caymanians to be given the opportunity to participate fully in the local economy,” the Progressives manifesto states.
To accomplish this, the PPM proposes that all current work permit, permanent residence and Caymanian status applications are dealt with administratively. It seeks to eliminate the involvement of politically-appointed boards in the permit process until the appeals stage.
Also, the party seeks to create complete separation between the labour/licensing functions of the Immigration Department and the border control/enforcement section.
In order to stay in Cayman long enough to apply for permanent residence, a foreign worker who is not married to a Caymanian or who does not have some close family connection to Cayman must be given key employee status via application of their employer.
The key employee designation allows the worker to stay here for up to nine years and apply for permanent residence within that time.
The PPM would do away with key employee status. So, as long as a non-Caymanian worker continues to receive a valid permit, they can apply for permanent residence after having lived in the islands for more than seven years.
The problem, according to the PPM, is most foreign workers aren’t spending money in the local economy or becoming connected with the local community, with the prospect of having to leave in seven years.
Under the new proposed system, the PPM states: “Not everyone who applies can expect to be granted permanent residence, but everyone will have an equal chance.
The current system of only key employees being able to apply is highly discriminatory and means, in practice, that mainly professional and managerial employees get permanent residence.
“We believe in fair and equal opportunity for all.”