The Immigration Department will employ 13 fresh staff, including five “compliance officers,” to ensure enforcement of new regulations governing employment and work permits, aimed at countering joblessness among Caymanians.
At the same time, nearly $3 million in fees remains unpaid to government by applicants for permanent residence or those who have already gained permanent residency status, threatening their tenure under new rules.
Speaking at West Bay’s John A. Cumber Primary School on Tuesday evening before an audience of about 80 people at the first of several town hall meetings about the proposed changes to the Immigration Law, Premier Alden McLaughlin described a two-pronged strategy to “get the economy moving with more economic activity, business expansion, more investment and growing more jobs.”
“A big part of that is confidence,” he said, detailing the first element of the plan. “We need to promote Cayman as a good place to live, work and invest.”
More critical, however, was the second component, designed to combat abuses in the current system.
“Immigration legislation is the other part of the strategy,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “There are 21,000 people working here who are from somewhere else. We need to process applications quickly and efficiently, but the system is not now working effectively, and part of that is our enforcement ability.”
To address the problem, he said, “we want to give the Immigration Department more enforcement powers. We have hired 13 more staff,” seeking to gain efficiencies and speed processing.
Five of the recruits will sit on in-house Immigration Department permit boards, processing routine work-permit applications. Another three will aid that effort, he said, also helping “five compliance officers to make sure employers are doing what they should be doing.”
For example, he said, the five-member team would probe specifications in job advertisements, ensuring they actually reflect “what the job is – when an ad says you need three languages, and it is really just a regular job.”
They will also ensure “employers are training [local] people to take over jobs,” although, at the same time, “when they need positions to be filled when a work permit is needed, we want to make sure they get them quickly.”
Mr. McLaughlin did not detail how compliance officers would enforce the new legislation or the powers they would wield, saying only that “they will identify the issues and allow government to do something about it.”
His chief officer in the Ministry of Home and Community Affairs, Eric Bush, said they “would monitor the conditioners for employers set by the Immigration Department or the board, such as training.”
A fine up to $20,000 could be levied against any employer failing to notify Immigration that a Caymanian had applied for any advertised job.
Mr. Bush echoed Premier McLaughlin’s concerns about unpaid fees of $2.8 million that are “on the road,” owed by “permanent residence holders who have never paid” for processing, for family dependants or the annual fee entitling them to work.
“There is $2.8 million in receivables from those permanent residents who have failed to pay,” Mr. Bush said, while acknowledging the figure had been “as high as $4 million” in the past, but “the chief immigration officer and others have retrieved some of that.”
Under new rules, he said, grants of permanent residency could be revoked if fees remain delinquent, although the changes will require all payments to be made at the time of application, itself scheduled to more than triple from the current $300 to $1,000.
The grant could also be revoked if any occupational change is not authorized by immigration officials or the holder fails to make an annual declaration.
Mr. Bush went on to the revised regulations in a prolonged presentation, reviewing a complex new point system and accompanying limits, asking Caymanians and private employers to register with the National Workforce Development Agency, and warning against efforts to circumvent the system.
“The private sector is going to have to cooperate,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Things cannot continue where [Caymanians] come back [from overseas] with qualifications, and then can’t work and can’t gain experience.
“We also recognize good corporate citizens who are making real efforts to hire Caymanians,” he said. “There is no one single effort or a bullet. These issues have been around a long time, and we have to do whatever is necessary to ensure Caymanians get whatever is possible.”