A one or two-year extension of work permits for foreign workers who had reached their residency limit in the Cayman Islands is about to expire.
By conservative estimates, at least 1,800 holders of what are known as Term Limit Exemption Permits, granted between October 2011 and March 2013, are likely to still be here by the time those permits end on 28 October, 2013.
What will happen to those individuals is not known, but presumably – if nothing changes between now and then – all will be required to leave after the ultimate expiration of their term limit exemptions.
According to Immigration Department data, between October 2011 and 31 March of this year, a total of 2,277 applications for term limit exemptions were approved, that number includes 405 term limit exemption renewals. Term Limit Exemption Permits can be granted for one year, with a possibility of another one-year renewal period [or until the 28 October, 2013 date is reached].
Statistics compiled by immigration indicated that between October 2011 and March 2013, some 3,379 people had reached the seven-year term limit on their work permits. Cayman Islands Immigration Law requires that any non-Caymanian worker not married to a Caymanian or who has not obtained key employee status to leave the islands for at least one year after having been ordinarily resident of the country for seven consecutive years. The seven year term limit on foreign workers’ residence is often referred to as “the rollover policy”.
Subtracting the number of Term Limit Exemption Permit renewals from the 2,277 total grants, it would appear that 1,872 of the 3,379 people reaching their term limit during that time have been exempted from the rollover. That’s about 55 per cent of those who, in the normal course of business, would have been required to leave the country.
The difficulty with the mass rollover scenario was identified by then-Immigration Review Team chairwoman Sherri Bodden-Cowan in mid-2011.
Cayman’s labour force statistics clearly show a massive influx of people that arrived in Cayman during 2005, compared to a sharp drop in the population around the time September 2004’s Hurricane Ivan occurred. By the fall of 2004, Cayman’s total workforce was just 23,453 people, with less than 11,000 non-Caymanians comprising that group, according to the government’s Economics and Statistics Office.
A year later, the workforce had swelled to 36,767 people with 17,439 non-Caymanians in the work force – an increase of about 6,500 non-Caymanians in the labour force in just 12 months. Moreover, in 2006 and 2007, work permit figures continued to increase the influx of foreign workers.
Ms Bodden-Cowan said at the time that many of those workers who remained in Cayman would have reached their term limit on residency sometime between late 2011 and early 2013. She predicted a massive exodus of foreign workers from the Cayman Islands, which the country’s economy might not be able to sustain, given the prolonged economic downturn that persisted. The Term Limit Exemption Permit was one of the devices created to deal with the issue.
Successful applicants for the exemption permit are not allowed by law to use a Term Limit Exemption Permit to legally count toward time spent in the Cayman Islands for any permanent residence application. At the moment, foreign workers must reside in Cayman continuously for at least eight years prior to applying for permanent residence.
“They will still be rolled over upon expiry of any Term Limit Exemption Permit issued,” an Appleby analysis of the term limit exemption permit read. “Employers that have employees who are crucial to operations, and who they would like to keep in the long term should continue to make applications for key employee designation.”
Alden McLaughlin, whose People’s Progressive Movement political party won the largest number of seats in government during last week’s general election, has said he does not support the term limit exemptions. Mr. McLaughlin said in 2011 that the proposal could lead to a different kind of bottleneck in the immigration process. Mr. McLaughlin said the exemption created “the legal fiction that you are lawfully a resident, but you are really not resident for the purposes of the law”.
“With all of the potential that brings for legal challenge, on a number of fronts … I cannot quite understand why the government would expose itself and the country to that possibility,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The PPM has said in its political manifesto that the party supports eliminating the key employee provision in the country’s immigration policy and allowing all foreign workers who remain ordinarily resident in the Islands for more than seven years to apply for permanent residents. If they do not receive that designation, they would have to depart after 10 years, under the PPM manifesto plan.