Editorial for September 26: The 'rollover' should apply to all – or none

Despite what some local media reports continue to espouse, the Cayman Islands’ new immigration amendment bill does not eliminate the term limit or “rollover” policy from the law.

Rather, it pushes back the current seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residence to nine years, allowing any foreign worker who manages to stay in the islands for eight consecutive years to apply for permanent residence. Anyone who gets to the nine-year deadline without having obtained permanent residence in one form or another must leave the islands for at least a year prior to returning.

There is an entire decade of arguments one can review as to whether the Cayman Islands should have any rollover policy in its immigration legislation, but we will not readdress those debates at the moment. It is plain to anyone reading the new immigration amendment bill that the ruling Progressives administration considers such a policy to be a positive thing for the country.

The glaringly obvious question left to us then is why, if such a policy is “a good thing,” it has not been extended to the civil service.

Since the implementation of the Cayman Islands’ first term limit policy in January 2004, the private sector has been forced to deal with the periodic loss of its best staff as businesses struggled to stay afloat. The purpose was, alternately, depending on whose rhetoric one was hearing at the time and the audience they were addressing, population control, jobs for Caymanians or voter registration suppression.  

Time has passed, and there is now a body of evidence to support the following analysis: The seven-year rollover did not reduce the population (which is much higher now than it was in 2003), it did not provide jobs for Caymanians (the unemployment rate among locals is now approaching 11 per cent) and, ultimately, it did not prevent Caymanian status holders from eventually voting (more than 18,000 registered voters now reside in Cayman).

Still, successive governments persisted with the policy and when the new immigration bill gains eventual passage in the Legislative Assembly later this year, the rollover will remain in slightly different form.

With nearly 900 non-Caymanian contract workers employed in the local government service as of mid-September, there is no mention in any of the administration’s proposals as to whether this situation will change. Studies of the issue concerning the rollover of non-Caymanian civil servants conducted during previous governments have never seen the light of day.

Vague statements have been made in the past regarding plans to implement a similar policy to rollover in the Public Service Management Law, but nothing has come to fruition.

The Cayman Islands government has been and remains one of the largest employers of foreign workers in this territory. Yet it does not have to play by the same rules as the private sector.

The situation is unfair and unreasonable and suggests an anti-business bias in government. The current government needs to make a change if it intends to pursue its current proposal regarding the rollover policy.