Deep political divides on immigration bill

Cayman Islands legislators were split three ways Wednesday on proposed amendments to the Immigration Law that will fundamentally change the system that governs how long non-Caymanian workers are allowed to stay in the islands.  

On one hand, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush panned the Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill as a potential jobs killer that did not provide any “real confidence” in the territory’s immigration system or its chances of economic recovery.  

“For those that say more people [in the territory] means less jobs for our people, that cannot be the entirety of the matter,” Mr. Bush said. “Facts do not bear that out. Are we capitulating to the thought process that we just don’t want these people here, but we want all that they bring? Don’t love the neighbor, but you want to borrow his bicycle?”  

On the other hand, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller described the amendment bill as “Caymanian economic genocide,” stating that the territory didn’t need any more jobs and that it should move away from an economic system that wasn’t creating any Caymanian wealth.  

“I disagree entirely with the Leader of the Opposition’s philosophy that what we need is more investment to create jobs,” Mr. Miller said. “We don’t need jobs. We’ve got 20,000-plus jobs that we don’t have Caymanians in.”  

The answer ended up being somewhere in the middle, as a majority of lawmakers approved the proposal from the Progressives party-led government which extends the former seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residence to nine years and allows any non-Caymanian worker who reaches eight years of consecutive residence in the islands to apply for permanent resident status.  

“There is no one in this House that cares more about this country than I do,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said, in wrapping up the debate. “But I don’t usually pound my chest and talk about how many foreigners need to be kicked off of this island … because, somehow, I believe that is going to make Caymanians feel that I care more about them. 

“If we don’t create an environment which welcomes foreign investment, encourages companies that are here and those that are elsewhere to come and grow businesses, there will be no jobs for Caymanians to quarrel about and fight for.”  

The vote on the final Immigration [Amendement] [No. 2] Bill, 2013, as it was amended in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday night into Thursday morning did not proceed exactly along party lines.  

Voting in favor of the measure were Premier McLaughlin, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell, Ministers Kurt Tibbetts, Wayne Panton, Marco Archer, and Osbourne Bodden, as well as government backbenchers Alva Suckoo and Joey Hew. Independent lawmakers Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly also supported the measure. 

Opposing it were government backbencher Anthony Eden, and independent members Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean.  

Opposition party members McKeeva Bush, Bernie Bush and Capt. Eugene Ebanks were absent for the vote, although both McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush stated earlier in the debate that they opposed the bill. Education Minister Tara Rivers was also absent for the vote for reasons given earlier in the day by the Speaker of the House.  

During the debate, government members gave their various views in support of the amendment legislation.  

“Nine years is a sufficient length of time for employers to recoup whatever investment that they have made in an expatriate employee,” Finance Minister Marco Archer said. “It is also sufficient time for them to identify and train a Caymanian so that that Caymanian can become their key employee and for the expatriate employee to position themselves both socially and financially to be deemed worthy of being granted permanent residence.”  

Health Minister Osbourne Bodden admitted the government’s internal debate over immigration changes was a tough one. 

“I do not want to see it become a situation where permanent residence is only for the elite,” he said. “Either extreme is bad. We have to strike a balance … you cannot set the bar too high that you lose the middle class.” 

Independent MLA Winston Connolly said, in his view, the government’s immigration reform proposal was about fairness. He said the former Immigration Law that gave local companies first choice at deciding who among the non-Caymanian workforce could remain through applications for key employee grants was simply not sustainable.  

“Where else could you go in this world where businesses were allowed to dictate who eventually became a citizen of a country? That is our right,” Mr. Connolly said. “The right to be Caymanian should not be granted indiscriminately.”  

Bodden Town MLA and government backbencher Anthony Eden disagreed with his colleagues and voted against the proposal.