Plan likely to scrap key employee status
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday that his administration intends to bring its immigration reform proposal to the Legislative Assembly prior to a key 28 October deadline in the Immigration Law.
Mr. McLaughlin said an announcement on the policy change was being readied for next week, but that the proposal will be generally similar to what was contained in the People’s Progressive Movement party’s manifesto prior to the May general election.
The crucial news is that the premier is seeking to alter the law prior to 28 October, the date when thousands of non-Caymanian workers currently staying in the islands on what are known as Term Limit Exemption Permits would have to depart.
The government’s planned changes to the Immigration Law are expected to give at least some of those workers a chance to stay in the islands up to 10 consecutive years from their initial arrival in Cayman, as long as they receive work permit renewals.
The term limit exemption was brought into effect in late 2011 by the previous United Democratic Party government. The UDP was seeking to ward off the economic blow from a large number of foreign workers leaving the jurisdiction all at once. Most of those concerned had been in Cayman since the Hurricane Ivan rebuilding effort in 2005 and 2006 and would have been required to leave upon reaching their seven-year term limit on residency.
By conservative estimates, at least 1,800 Term Limit Exemption Permit holders, granted between October 2011 and March 2013, are likely to still be here by the time those permits expire on 28 October.
According to Immigration Department data, between October 2011 and 31 March of this year, 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 a renewal until the 28 October 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.
To avoid counting workers twice, the Caymanian Compass subtracting the number of Term Limit Exemption Permit renewals from the 2,277 total grants. Using those number, 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.
What’s the big idea?
In its 2013 election manifesto, the Progressives party admitted economic and competitiveness concerns with regard to the continued existence of the country’s immigration policies. The problem, according to the manifesto, is most foreign workers aren’t spending money in the local economy or becoming connected with the local community due to the prospect of having to leave in seven years.
Mr. McLaughlin cautioned that some room for negotiation would still need to be allowed, but that the manifesto represented the views of the Progressives – who now hold 10 of the 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly, including that of House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who does not cast votes on legislation.
“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 manifesto states.
To accomplish this, the Progressives propose that all current applications for work permits, permanent residence and Caymanian status 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.
At the moment, 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 by 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 Progressives manifesto proposes doing away with key employee status. So, as long as a non-Caymanian worker continues to receive a valid permit, he or she can apply for permanent residence after having lived in the islands for more than seven years, the manifesto states.
Under the system proposed in the Progressives manifesto: “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.”