Immigration amendments pass, soon signed into law
Working past 2 a.m. Thursday, Cayman Islands legislators approved sweeping amendments to the Immigration Law that give a 45-day reprieve to non-Caymanian workers who otherwise would have had to depart the islands after next Monday, when their Term Limit Exemption Permits expired.
Those exempted workers – about 1,500 of them – can now stay in the Cayman Islands until Dec. 9, 2013, as long as they get their passports regularized on Monday or Tuesday of next week.
According to Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, the Immigration Department is setting up temporary facilities at Mary Miller Hall in George Town district to divert some of the Term Limit Exemption Permit holders who need to get their passports stamped.
“We are going to deal with the majority of the workers on Term Limit Exemption Permits off site,” Ms Evans said. “We have secured the Mary Miller Hall for Monday and Tuesday of next week from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to handle persons with the following circumstances:
“If a worker has a Term Limit Exemption Permit expiring on Oct. 28 and they have paid for a grant or renewal of a TLEP after Dec. 12, 2012, they should attend the Mary Miller Hall between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and bring with them a valid passport and the working by operation of law form, which can be located on our website, as well as a letter from their current employer.
Other individuals in the circumstances described below should come to immigration headquarters on Elgin Avenue, Ms Evans said.
“If their Term Limit Exemption Permit expired prior to Oct. 28 and they do not already have a visitor’s extension, or, the employer has paid for a grant or renewal prior to Dec. 9, 2012, they are required to pay a $100 administrative fee.”
“[In the case of a] worker who is at year nine [of their residence] when the new law is gazetted they are eligible to submit a permission to continue to work form and pay 25 percent of the annual work permit fee plus a $100 administrative fee,”
After the Dec. 9 deadline issues are resolved, the exempted workers’ employers will either have to apply for a new work permit on behalf of those individuals, or, in the case of non-Caymanian workers who have been in the islands for nine years, they will have to make an application for permanent residence within 90 days of the Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill coming into effect. Otherwise, they will have to leave the islands after Dec. 9.
The governor was expected to sign the law within the week. The measure extends the former seven-year term limit on residence for non-Caymanian workers to nine years and allows any non-Caymanian worker staying here for eight consecutive years to apply for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
However, applying for permanent residence is likely to be made much tougher and many non-Caymanian residents will be effectively priced out of even applying for the designation unless their employers agree to financially support their application. Currently, Immigration Law requires companies to pay yearly work permits for their employees, but it is not specific regarding who pays for permanent residence annual fees.
The fee for a permanent residence application has been increased from $300 to $1,000. What has also changed from the previous law is that payments for the annual permit fee, the permanent residence issuance fee and the fees for any dependents on the applicant’s permit will also have to be paid up front at the time the application is made.
For example, a work permit holder whose annual permit fee is $5,000 and whose employer did not agree to support a permanent residence application would have to pay $6,000 up front, in addition to issuance fees and fees on behalf of any dependents they seek to support. Government officials said all fees will be refunded if the residency application is not successful, save for the initial $1,000 application fee.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the decision to seek all the permanent residence permit fees up front was mostly due to the fact that the Cayman Islands government has some $2.5 million in overdue permanent residence fees outstanding. Much of that amount may be uncollectable for the government.
The legislation eliminates the key employee designation previously required to stay in Cayman beyond the former seven-year term limit. However, 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.
Also discontinued in the amended law 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, but the “points system” created for that purpose is to be included in regulations to the law, not in the law itself. Those regulations were expected to be made public in a few days.
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,” informed the new permanent residence rating system.
“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.
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.
Any 10-year work permits issued for jobs in the financial services industry under the former Cayman Islands Immigration Law will be short-lived.
Government officials have said that anyone already granted a 10-year permit, approved prior to the legal commencement of the Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill, 2013, can have that permit continued to the end of their term.
“An amendment to section 48(2) of the law will … allow persons who held a 10-year term limit prior to the coming into effect of the Immigration (Amendment)(No. 2) Law, 2013 to continue to be granted work permits for the remainder of that 10-year term,” Mr. Bush said. “The industries and occupations currently prescribed as being entitled to a 10-year work permit will be removed from the Immigration Regulations (2013 Regulations) in due course.”
The 10-year work permit is a relatively new concept in the Cayman Islands Immigration Law, having been ap
proved in regulations to the law on Oct. 16, 2012.
Until the approval of those regulations, the maximum time any single work permit for a non-Caymanian employee could be approved was five years.