A subtle change to Cayman Islands Immigration Law could leave local companies without their temporary non-Caymanian workers, once those individuals have applied for a full-year work permit.
The change would only be applied if a non-Caymanian worker brought in on a six-month permit is subsequently turned down for an application seeking a full-year permit. In that case, under amendments to the Immigration Law passed last month by the Legislative Assembly, that “temporary” permit worker would not be allowed to continue working while an appeal of their case was heard.
For full-year work permit renewals, the individual would be able to continue working until the appeal was decided, according to Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans.
The issue could be more serious than it first appears for local businesses, many of which have long used the practice of bringing in non-Caymanian workers for a “test run” on six-month temporary work permits prior to hiring them on a full-time work permit. Generally, the approval process for temporary work permits is less stringent than for full-year agreements.
Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce President Chris Duggan said his organization is aware of the legal change and, while they understand the reasons behind it, he said it seems unlikely to solve the real problem with the work permit process.
“This provision is being introduced to prevent employers from taking advantage of an already broken appeals process by enabling their employees to remain working pending the outcome of an appeal that they know will buy them months or even years,” Mr. Duggan said. “But this provision, while preventing that scenario, creates an even more damaging result.
“I would suggest that government fix the actual problem, which is the appeals process, rather than introduce legislation to get around the real problem.”
Under the old Immigration Law, non-Caymanian workers appealing the denial of a work permit application were considered to be “working by operation of law” until that appeal was decided.
That status will be removed for the initial permit applications, including those made on behalf of workers here on temporary permits.
“The Chamber cannot support this provision unless the appeals process is overhauled entirely to enable all appeals to be heard within a realistic time frame,” he said, “By realistic, I would say within two weeks maximum from the date of the permit being declined.
“Currently, the appeals process can take up to a few years, which in and of itself is a wholly unacceptable time frame, but, with the introduction of this provision, it becomes entirely unsustainable.”
Mr. Duggan said the Chamber was asking that the government re-visit this particular amendment to the Immigration Law, which really – the view of the organization – has nothing to do with the employment of Caymanian workers.
“The Chamber continues to feel strongly that all qualified Caymanian workers should be given every opportunity to obtain employment and we will continue to advocate for that,” Mr. Duggan said. “However, we also feel strongly that all employers should be allowed to freely and easily obtain foreign workers once all efforts to find and employ a Caymanian worker for the role have been exhausted.
“This provision [regarding temporary workers] is not conducive to this and I feel that it will only make it harder for employers to legitimately obtain and retain well qualified foreign workers which ultimately will harm our economy and further diminish employment opportunities for Caymanians going forward.”
Changes made to the Cayman Islands Immigration Law have extended the territory’s previous seven-year term limit on residence for non-Caymanian workers to nine years and have allowed any work permit holder who stays here for a consecutive eight years to apply for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
However, the process for applying for permanent residence has become much more difficult due to a change in the points system that governs the award of that status.