Protesters pan immigration bill, government

Protesters who turned out for a march through downtown George Town Friday had set the new government’s immigration reform plan in their sights.

However, target No. 1 was clearly Premier Alden McLaughlin’s Progressive-led coalition government, which has identified wholesale revisions to the current Immigration Law as one of its first legislative priorities.

“We are here to fight for our rights and the rights to our jobs,” said Vadlee Douglas. “Two-thousand Caymanians are out of a job, and Alden is fighting to give more statuses?”

Ms Douglas’s comments refer to the pending fate of 1,500 or so Term Limit Exemption Permit holders who will have to leave the country later this month if the government’s immigration reform proposal fails. The Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill, 2013, would allow those term limit exempted workers to remain until Dec. 9, 2013 and, if they wish to, apply for permanent residence – the right to stay in Cayman for the rest of their lives.

“The view has also been put abroad that if these 1,500 Term Limit Exemption Permit holders were sent home, that 1,500 Caymanians would find job immediately,” Mr. McLaughlin said in a recent address to the Chamber of Commerce. “The truth is that, of this number, over 900 are for jobs as domestics, gardeners, caregivers and in other jobs, which Caymanians have clearly demonstrated they have no interest in filling.”

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller rejected this line of reasoning Friday during the protest march and put forth conspiracy theories about the immigration reform bill being proposed to “satisfy somebody who asked for it.”

“We have to inconvenience the people who have asked for this law,” Mr. Miller said, yelling into a megaphone in the middle of Elgin Avenue just prior to the march on the Legislative Assembly. “Participatory democracy demands that I come to you first and ask you what to do about the problem.”

Mr. McLaughlin has pointed out that a version of the immigration reform bill appeared in the Progressives 2013 pre-election manifesto and was written about extensively in the local press prior to the general election. The Progressives won nine of 18 legislative seats in the May 22 general election and added a tenth member when Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly joined the party.

“It has not escaped my attention that, either through ignorance or mischief, there are people who have been playing on the emotions of Caymanians, to try to convince them that their interests are not being protected by the amendments to the immigration bill,” Mr. McLaughlin said in his Chamber address.

Emotions were running high outside the Legislative Assembly on Friday, where a group of about 70-90 protesters carried signs stating ‘Roll back to three year rollover’ and ‘Nine years is too much.’ Those comments referenced the Progressives-led government’s proposal to extend the current seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residency to nine years and let every foreign worker who stays for at least eight years apply for permanent residence.

“After all Caymanians are employed, then they can do work permits, but let Caymanians come first,” said Edith Williams, one of the protest marchers.

The protest group was joined by a few non-Caymanians as well, including Amjed Zureigat, nicknamed locally “the Jordanian ambassador.”

“I live here eight years now,” Mr. Zureigat said. “I see my neighbors suffering, they’re losing their jobs and their homes.”

Upon arrival at the Legislative Assembly, dozens of protesters attempted to gain access, waving signs and placards. Police officers informed them that this was against the law. The demonstrators then agreed to put down their signs and enter in single file, “ladies first.”

Long-time Caymanian activist Billy Adam summed up the protesters’ feelings outside the assembly building, comparing the award of Caymanian status to a checklist required for the inspection of a car.

“In the Cayman Islands, that’s what Caymanian status has become,” Mr. Adam said. “How many people do they want? Two-hundred thousand? Three-hundred thousand? Seventy-five thousand? They don’t know.”

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Vadlee Douglas [left, on megaphone] leads the protest group in a chant during the march on the Legislative Assembly Friday morning.
Photo: Chris Court

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The protest group outside the government administration building on Elgin Ave.
Photo: Chris Court

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North Side MLA Ezzard Miller leads the marchers through Heroes Square in downtown George Town.
Photo: Chris Court
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6 COMMENTS

  1. The thing that Caymanians don’t understand is that they no longer have any control over what happens in this country. There was a time when Caymanians dominated the small and medium business sector of the economy; but this has changed drastically over the years with control shifting to mostly foreign born and raised individuals that don’t actually have any love for, or loyalty to, this country.

    These people are the same individuals that, despite having Caymanian status, go out of there way not to employ Caymanians because they know that it is easier to exploit expat workers by forcing them to pay for their work permits and not contributing to their pension or health insurance (as is required by law).

    The truth is that Caymanians have not only lost control of the economy but have also lost control of the ballot box. The PPM understand this and that is why their first priority is to please their new masters.

    The PPM hopes that the actions that they take today will keep them in power for many years to come.

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  2. Cat boats and straw hats may be a forte of Caymanians, but placard designing is not.

    Participatory democracy…hmmmm, with only 70 to 90 protestors, I hope they don’t expect to change much in the near future.

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  3. Where in the world do people get the idea that anyone has a right to a job, I always thought a job was a privilege and needed to get treated as such. I also find it a pathetic display of support for this protest that with nearly 3000 people out of work less than 100 showed up. While I understand the complaint people have about jobs I still find it hard to believe that the Expat population is the root cause for the joblessness because I can’t believe any employer would rather hire an expat over a Caymanian of equal qualifications and ethic when he would have to pay a huge fee to do so. I would think with over 3000 qualified people out of work that are actively seeking employment there would have been a lot more people at the protest and there would also be an equal amount of people registered with the NWDA. Am I missing something here?

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  4. Mr. Michael Davis, albeit I disagree with some of Ezzard’s chanted comments, I have to agree with the demonstrators regarding future generations. For example, you came here presumably on a work permit, then you got your residency or status, then your children, cousins and so on are now here, and here for the rest of your lives if you choose to be here. What happens to the employment pool for Caymanians? It gets saturated and then there’s no more room for the school leaver entering the same work pool. Please let me be clear that I’m not bashing you or expats but I think there needs to be some long-term planning when it comes to immigration issues and protection for generations that are coming up. We can’t be giving out status grants Nillie Willie like what happened with the 3,000 grants. Look at where that gotten us. More social care, more social issues and yes, unemployment.
    For years we have been band aiding the issue and it’s a time bomb waiting to explode. We should look at our neighboring islands and see what they are doing and maybe take notes of best practices and implementing them. This fly by the seat or knee jerking implementation by the new government and previous ones just is not working.
    Thank God the natives are only demonstrating. I see if changes don’t come there will be rioting and mayhem in the future. I ask you then Mr. Davis will you stick around?

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  5. Hugh, Interesting how everyone thinks that a person with an opinion that doesn’t match theirs on this topic or doesn’t agree that the cause of the unemployment is the presence of Expats in Cayman is a Expat. I am not in Cayman on a Work Permit nor do I have PR. I just happen to be able to afford to have homes in the US and in Cayman that I travel in between. I do however keep a close watch on what’s going on in Cayman and have many many friends in Cayman that are both Caymanian and Expat alike I also have friends that have status. I do understand your analogy about people getting granted PR and the effect on future generations. But I still do not believe that the Expat population is the root cause of people being out of work. I have a few friends that currently out of work and I asked why they were not at the protest and their answer why bother and the other was like it’s all the way in Georgetown. One in particular was the manager of a store in GT for years before getting laid off a few years ago and downright will not take a job that’s any less than what he was doing which is his prerogative but it’s not the fault of and Expat working as the GM of another store nor do I think that person should immediately get kicked to the curb just because my friend got laid off. When his work permit is up is a different thing if my friend is still looking and applies for that job. Your mention of long term planning is correct but this has to include preparing the next generation of young Caymanians to compete in a tough job market, you can’t just create jobs and expect to fill them with people unless they are prepared and qualified to do the job. There needs to be a stronger focus on education and specialized training for the industries that are currently big in Cayman. I can believe that a lot of employers have a bad impression of Caymanian workers probably from past experiences. I’ve been in plenty of businesses and experienced very unprofessional attitudes from Caymanians to the point that I sometimes felt ignored and just walked out. On the other hand I’ve seen plenty of highly professional Caymanians in different businesses around the island. The sad truth with this is that people tend to remember the bad a lot easier than the good. In my life I’ve experienced plenty of discrimination and hard time finding jobs because in my day a lot of people had the image of Black people as lazy untrustworthy people that they would prefer not to hire. There’s been times when I went on interviews and was told immediately after walking in the door that the job was no longer available. I remember one time a lady took the sign out the window while I was standing there saying they were no longer hiring, I walked around the corner and came back and it was back in the window. So you it’s not just in Cayman where people face hard times.
    All these things are obstacles that people have to learn to leap over and keep going. The two obvious issues I see here is a government that is dependent on the revenue coming in from Work Permit related fees most likely because there’s no income taxes in Cayman, so don’t expect much help from them because less Expats means less money for the CIG. And then there seems to be a general perception by employers that you get more out of an Expat than you will a Caymanian worker possibly because they know the expat is aware that if he loses or quits his job he has to leave Cayman and they are less likely to get mad and quit or find another job and quit so they have a employee that they can expect to get to know the job and work there for a long time. Only Caymanians themselves can change this perception by proving to these employers that they are hard working intelligent professionals who will be devoted to the job which makes hiring them a better choice.
    I know from a speaking to a lot of Caymanians that most at least the ones I know are not interested in the jobs on the lower end of the scale such as housekeepers, Dishwashers, Landscaping or even the jobs in the Tourism industry that require long hours and not high salaries. So I don’t see the issue of expats filling these jobs. As far as the expats that fill these jobs I seriously doubt any of them would qualify for permanent residence if the even bother to apply.

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  6. after her story aired Miss Nadine Hollis got a call from a local hotel to come in for a Job. It seems the that her presence at the protest and professional attitude about wanting to work paid off. I you notice she wasn’t screaming or acting demanding she was asking for a chance to prove herself, Kudos to her and I wish her the best. This proves that you need to do whatever it takes to get yourself noticed, she went out and got the training needed then hit the ground determined and look what happened. She has my respect..

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