Immigration reforms will go to Cabinet in September
A rating system assessing qualities including workforce skills, community involvement and financial stability is being devised to help adjudicate applications from foreign workers who wish to become permanent Cayman Islands’ residents.
An influx of applications is expected when new laws come into force later this year allowing anyone who has lived and worked in the Cayman Islands for eight years to apply for permanent residency status. Successful applicants gain the right to stay in Cayman for life.
Those legal changes, which are being drafted now to go before Cabinet in September, will come alongside a new framework for assessing applications designed to ensure new residents are good citizens and do not become a financial or social burden to the country.
That framework will retain some similarity to the current “point system” used to score permanent residence applications now. However, the number of points required and criteria being assessed will contain significant differences from what exists now, according to government officials.
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell indicated this week that the new rating system would not just be for the elite.
“The doctor, lawyer and businessman are just as important to your society as the caregiver to your mother and the domestic who raises your children. A society needs a certain amount of balance. That is the challenge we are going to have, to come up with a weighting system for how this works,” he said.
The first order of business will be fast-track legislation to end the seven-year term-limit policy for non-Caymanian workers, extending work permit term limits to 10 years. That extension is expected to occur before a 28 October deadline when up to 2,000 foreign workers now staying here on term limit exemption permits would otherwise have to leave the Cayman Islands.
A draft immigration bill will go to Cabinet on 17 September, with an eye toward debate and passage of the bill into law during the October session of the Legislative Assembly.
Eric Bush, chief officer at the ministry of home affairs, outlined the tight time frame for the immigration bill to an audience of tourism industry leaders during a panel discussion at the University College of the Cayman Islands on Wednesday.
He said it was critical that the draft bill went before Cabinet in short order.
“We have a deadline for term limit exemption permits on the 20th of October,” Mr. Bush said. “For the government to be able to extend the term limits from seven to 10 years and address the 1,500-plus persons on term limit exemption permits, we have to have a law passed in October.”
The legal change will mean employers can apply for new work permits on behalf of anyone coming to the end of their seven-year term in the Cayman Islands, and ultimately, those workers can apply for permanent residence if they stay here for eight consecutive years.
For those workers granted term limit exemption permits between October 2011 and October 2013, a new work permit application would have to be filed for the employee.
“The majority of these applications will go before the Work Permit Board as new permit applications,” Mr. Bush said Thursday.
It is hoped that the changes to the permanent residency rating system will also be brought into law in October. The general guidelines for the system will be written into legislation, but the specific point awards for each category will be determined by Cabinet.
Mr. Bush said the aim of the points system was to come up with a weighting system that retained enough flexibility for the government of the day to factor in the workforce requirements of the country.
“Possessing skills and experience that can benefit the island, I believe, will be different today versus what it will be in 10-15 years.
“We are recommending a system that Cabinet looks at on an annual basis. The framework will be the same, but how those areas are graded will be dependent on what Cabinet believes is important for the country at that time,” Mr. Bush said.
He added that new citizens would likely have to tick other boxes beyond their value to the workforce.
“We have a good problem in that we have an abundance of individuals who want to stay here and make Cayman their home,” he said. “Our responsibility, I believe personally, is to ensure the persons we allow to stay do not become a liability or a risk to our country.
“What do we want the perfect citizen to be? We are saying we want them to be financially stable, we want them to be ethical and law abiding, we want them to be integrated into the Caymanian community, we want them to have appropriate and adequate inward investment, be community-minded and possess skills and experience that benefit the Cayman Islands.
“We also recommend that we look at personal demographics like age, nationality, gender, education and literacy. We also want them to be healthy, both mentally and physically. Some of those are positive indicators, some are negative indicators – what we are recommending is that none of those areas are looked at in isolation. They [applicants] are looked at as an individual.”
Mr. Bush said the proposals were still being discussed and should be viewed as recommendations at this stage.
A separate review going on concurrently will look at the entire work permit system, to include a proposed expansion of responsibilities for immigration officers in approving not only work permits but also permanent resident status applications. Mr. Kirkconnell acknowledged that many workers and employers were anxious that the issue was sorted as soon as possible.
“We will try to fast track the legislation. I especially am aware that people in the industry need to have some comfort that they are going to be able to stay and the employers need to know that their employees are going to be able to stay past the time of this period expiring,” he told the audience at UCCI on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Brent Fuller