Gov’t braces for rush on permanent residency applications

The Cayman Islands government expects to receive as many as 2,000 applications for permanent residence from non-Caymanian workers during its current 2013/14 financial year, according to budget records made public this week.  

By way of comparison, the government received 925 permanent residence applications during the last budget year. 

Another way of looking at it: Between July 2009 and November 2011, more than two years, the government received 1,439 applications, according to records released to the Caymanian Compass under the Freedom of Information Law. Those 1,439 applications over about 27 months are fewer than the minimum number of permanent residence applications government expects to receive this year.  

The budget for processing Caymanian status and permanent residence applications has been increased by about $150,000 over last year’s spending plan.  

 

TLEPs  

Non-Caymanian workers residing here on Term Limit Exemption Permits will likely make up the majority of the permanent residence applications within the current budget year.  

Those individuals – more than 1,500 at last count – will be allowed to resume holding regular work permits under proposed changes to the Immigration Law if there are no qualified Caymanians seeking their positions. However, Premier Alden McLaughlin recently said that local citizens were not likely to apply for a number of the positions available. “Over 900 are jobs as domestics, gardeners or caregivers … which Caymanians have generally expressed little interest in filling,” the premier said during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  

As of now, those workers would have been required to leave the Cayman Islands when the Oct. 28 deadline on their term limit exemption permit expires. Since that time frame is simply too close to when the likely passage of the recently proposed Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill, companies that employ the term limit exempted workers will be given until Dec. 9 to apply for new work permits for those individuals.  

There are an estimated 1,900 unemployed Caymanians in the territory, according to the last labor force survey completed last fall.  

The Term Limit Exemption Permit deadline raises the specter of about 1,500 people applying all at once for permanent residence. However, Premier McLaughlin noted several of those applicants are not likely to attempt a permanent residence application anyway because of economic considerations; among those, that the cost of a permanent residency application has gone from $300 to $1,000 under the new proposed legislation.  

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.  

 

Approval rates  

According to immigration data compiled through 2011, the immigration boards appointed by the former United Democratic Party government – on average – approved permanent residence applications 56 percent of the time. Since July 2009, the start of the first full fiscal year under the UDP government, and through mid-November 2011, there were 801 permanent residence applications approved and 638 declined.  

Those numbers only include individuals who applied for residence in their own right, not as a spouse or dependant of a Caymanian or as a dependant of any other residence-holder in the Cayman Islands.  

Going back further, in the last 10 months of the former People’s Progressive Movement government’s administration [2008-2009], permanent residence applications were being approved at a rate of 61 per month.  

The former PPM government’s appointed boards also declined permanent residency applications at a much higher rate during the last 10 months of their administration – at a rate of some 146 per month. Overall, during the last 10 months of the PPM administration, immigration-related boards averaged a 30 percent approval rate for permanent residence applications made by non-Caymanians seeking status in their own right, not as a dependant or spouse of a Caymanian.  

Part of the reason so many more permanent residence applications were heard during 2008 and 2009, is the Immigration Department was dealing with a massive backlog of applications from individuals who had been exempted from Cayman’s seven-year term limit on residency for foreign workers.  

In January 2004, when the seven-year term limit or “rollover policy” came into effect, anyone who had been here for five years or longer was allowed to remain in Cayman for at least eight years – enough time to apply for permanent residence.  

That led to a mass of permanent residency applications being filed between mid-2005 and 2007, as the “pre-rollover” workers came up to the eight-year residence period.  

The government may now be facing a similar situation with the Term Limit Exemption Permit holders and other expatriate workers that no longer have to receive key employee status to stay in the territory for eight years.  

 

Much tougher  

In a recent statement, Premier McLaughlin indicated that the approval rate for permanent residence was likely to be much lower than what was seen in the previous UDP government administration.  

The point system that determines whether a non-Caymanian resident who has lived in the Cayman Islands for at least eight years can obtain permanent residency is being made more strict, according to proposals released late last week by government.  

According to the bill that will be debated in the Legislative Assembly this month, the minimum number of points required for a non-Caymanian worker who is not married to a Caymanian and who applies to stay in the territory for the rest of his or her life will be 110 – 10 points more than what is required currently.  

The bill, if passed, would also allow Cabinet members to adjust the points system as the government deems necessary at least once per year – without a ratifying vote of the Legislative Assembly, since the points schedule will be placed in regulations to the Immigration Law.  

“It is certainly going to be more difficult to get permanent residency under the new regime, more difficult than it was than under the old regime,” Premier McLaughlin said Friday. Previously, the premier has said the permanent residency qualification system would have to be made more stringent due to the abolishment of “key employee” status for foreign workers under existing immigration law. Key employee designations are now required for any non-Caymanian worker to be able to stay in the territory long enough to apply for permanent residency, unless that worker is married to a Caymanian or has some close Caymanian connection. 

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