Cabinet approves immigration reform bill, TLEPs to have until Dec. 9
Cayman Islands Cabinet members have approved an immigration reform plan that is expected to be brought to the Legislative Assembly next month.
According to the major tenets of the plan, the current seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residence in the islands, often referred to as the “rollover policy,” will be scrapped and replaced. It was initially proposed that a 10-year term limit would be put in its place, but that original plan has been changed following discussions in Cabinet to create a nine-year maximum term limit.
Non-Caymanian workers residing here on Term Limit Exemption Permits will be allowed to resume holding regular work permits under proposed changes to the Immigration Law, however, there will be time limits on their applications for permanent residence.
As of now, those workers – exactly 1,510 as of Sept. 16 – would have been required to leave the Cayman Islands when the Oct. 28, 2013 deadline on their term limit exemption permit expires. Since that time frame is simply too close to when the likely passage of the immigration amendment bill will occur, companies that employ the term limit exempted workers will be given until Dec. 9 to apply for new work permits on their behalf.
The proposed legislation seeks to eliminate the key employee designation required to stay in Cayman beyond the seven-year term limit. However, according to the bill, any key employee designations pending at the time the bill passes into law should still be determined. Current key employees will be given a presumption in their favor for renewals of their work permits up to the nine-year term limit on residency.
After the legislation takes effect, anyone who is able to reside continuously in Cayman for eight years will be allowed to apply for permanent residence – the right to live in the territory for the rest of their lives.
The full text of the Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill was sent to local lawmakers late Friday night. The proposal will head to the Legislative Assembly following the approval of the 2013/14 budget, according to Premier Alden McLaughlin.
The assembly was expected to resume sometime during the week of Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.
Also discontinued in the amended immigration bill is the concept of the “final, non-renewable work permit,” typically granted after an application for permanent residence is denied or appeals of work permit denials have been exhausted. In most cases, those individuals will be given 90 days to settle their affairs prior to leaving the islands.
The new bill also grants the chief immigration officer, or designates, the ability to decide permanent residence applications and work permits when a Caymanian has applied for the position. Currently, immigration officers decide only certain non-controversial work permit applications.
The requirements for being granted permanent residence will change. A review of the current immigration law focused on redefining criteria for granting permanent residence to align with government’s “economic, social and cultural objectives,” will inform the new permanent residence rating system. Fees for permanent residence applications will be increased to $1,000 if the new bill is approved.
“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,” Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said in August. “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.”
In other words, it will be much tougher under the new immigration system to earn permanent residence designations. The specific points system used to designate permanent residence will be contained in regulations to the Immigration Law if the amendment bill gains passage in the LA.
Premier McLaughlin said that 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.
The 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 specter of about 1,500 people applying all at once for permanent residence. However, Mr. McLaughlin said a number of those applicants are not likely to attempt a permanent residence application anyway due to economic considerations.
Time limits will be set on any application for permanent residence, whether from a Term Limit Exemption Permit holder or from a regular work permit holder. Any permanent residence application would have to be filed within the eighth year of the person’s residence in the Cayman Islands. For example, if a non-Caymanian worker arrived in Cayman on Feb. 1, 2006 and continued to work on permits until Feb. 1, 2014, that person would be able to apply for permanent residence as of Feb. 1, 2014.
One exception is for Term Limit Exemption Permit holders or, in rare cases, other work permit holders, who have stayed in Cayman beyond eight years. Those permit holders who have been here for nine years will be allowed to apply, but those applications would have to be made within three months of the law taking effect.
The immigration amendment bill sets out some stiff penalties for local businesses that fail to report job applications by Caymanians, spouses of Caymanians or permanent residents when applying for a work permit.
The amendment bill makes it an offense – with a maximum first-time fine of $20,000 – for any employer to fail to disclose that information to the Immigration Department.
Permanent residents will also be watched more closely by the Immigration Department. In the future, permanent residence holders will be required to submit an annual declaration in respect to investments, employment and other factors. Failure to comply with this requirement will be an offense.
In addition, the permanent resident must inform the relevant immigration board or chief immigration officer if there is any change to his employment circumstances or face fines.