New plan sets time line for immigration reform
Non-Caymanian workers residing here on Term Limit Exemption Permits will be allowed to resume holding regular work permits under proposed changes to the country’s Immigration Law.
As of now, those workers – between 1,500 and 2,000 people – would be required to leave the Cayman Islands when the 28 October, 2013 deadline on their term limit exemption expires.
If and when the revised Immigration Law takes effect, those individuals and any other foreign workers who have stayed in the Cayman Islands for eight years or longer, will be allowed to apply for permanent residence without needing to receive a key employee designation. Premier Alden McLaughlin had previously said that changes to the law would take effect before the deadline set on the Term Limit Exemption Permits.
Mr. McLaughlin said Saturday evening that he intended to bring immigration reform legislation to the Legislative Assembly by the end of September and that any changes must occur before 28 October.
“We have to,” the premier said. “I’m not iffing or butting about that.”
According to a news release sent Saturday by Home Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Eric Bush: “All work permit holders who have resided here for at least eight years will become eligible to apply for permanent residence.”
The current seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residence, often referred to as the “rollover policy”, will be scrapped and replaced with a 10-year residency term limit. Also, the proposed legislation will eliminate the key employee designation required to stay in Cayman beyond the seven-year term limit. Any key employee designations now in effect will be made moot once the new law is passed, Mr. McLaughlin said.
An important legal question of how Term Limit Exemption Permit holders’ time spent on the islands over the past two years will be counted is also to be resolved in the new legislation. Current Immigration Law states that the time spent in Cayman on a Term Limit Exemption Permit would not count toward the eight years of continuous residency required prior to a permanent residence application being filed. Premier McLaughlin said legislation would be changed and that the term limit exemption period would be legally included in the total time spent in Cayman.
That raises the spectre of somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 people applying all at once for permanent residence, which bestows the right to live in Cayman for the rest of one’s life. However, Mr. McLaughlin said a number of those applicants are not likely to attempt a permanent residence application anyway due to economic considerations.
According to the news release issued by Mr. Bush, the requirements for being granted permanent residence will change following a review of the existing law to be completed in the coming months. That review will focus on redefining criteria for the awarding of permanent residence to align with government’s “economic, social and cultural objectives”.
“The aim is to ensure persons granted permanent residence are drawn from a diverse cross-section of our society and are also assets to the community,” Mr. Bush wrote. “The revised criteria will also take into account the impact of the removal of the initial filter afforded by the key employee feature of the term limit process.”
Premier McLaughlin said, under the existing immigration system, it is likely that a person awarded key employee status will eventually be granted permanent residence. The same approval rate cannot apply if a significantly greater number of individuals are allowed to apply for permanent residence, he said.
Under the existing system, local businesses essentially make the first decision on who gets to stay and who must leave when they choose workers to designate as key employees. The difference under the newly proposed system is that government will be the sole arbiter in the decision, once a permanent residence application is received.
A longer-term goal set out in the government’s immigration reform plan involves a massive cultural change in the way the Cayman Islands’ bureaucratic system now operates.
“The government will amend the Immigration Law and policies to … eliminate the current system of boards,” Mr. Bush’s news release read.
The “big-picture” idea, according to Mr. McLaughlin, is to eventually have as many work permit, permanent residence and other immigration-related applications as possible dealt with by the Immigration Department. Right now, immigration does approve or deny a significant number of work permits. However, the ruling Progressives government has said its goal is to have immigration handle all initial applications and leave only appeals of permit denials to entities like the Work Permit Board and Business Staffing Plan Board.
Some serious discussion will be needed on this point, the premier admits. “I’m told by those experts within the system that we’re probably going to need to retain a board to deal with more problematic matters [work permit applications where a qualified Caymanian applied and did not get the job, etc.].”
To review this proposal, government has established a Work Permit Process Review Committee to look into a number of aspects within the existing immigration permit system. The committee will work toward the goal of bringing further amendments to Cayman’s Immigration Law by May 2014.