Gov’t employees face PR time limit

Non-Caymanian government employees who have been working here for at least nine years must apply for permanent residency before the last week in January if they wish to remain permanently in Cayman.  

According to a notice sent to government workers in late November, the requirement to apply for permanent residence within 90 days of the newly amended Immigration Law taking effect is now the same for non-Caymanian government workers as for private sector work permit holders.  

“For persons who were already resident in excess of nine years on Oct. 25, 2013, they have a period of 90 days from that date in which to submit their application,” the government notice of Nov. 29 stated. “If they do not submit an application during that period, they will lose their opportunity to apply.”  

Civil service employees have always been treated differently than their private sector counterparts since the term-limit policy on foreign workers’ residency went into effect in January 2004. Previously, non-Caymanian work permit holders in the private sector had to leave Cayman after seven years of continuous residence in the islands, unless they were granted key employee status under the law. The new Immigration Law abolishes the key employee status designation and sets the term-limit period at nine years.  

Non-Caymanian civil service workers are not granted work permits by the Immigration Department, but rather receive fixed-term contracts from government – typically for two or three years at a time. Those workers have never been subjected to the seven-year or now nine-year term limit set for non-Caymanian private sector workers.  

The 90-day time limit to apply for permanent residence for non-Caymanian civil service employees who have remained in Cayman for nine years or longer is curious, particularly because those workers would still not be term-limited even if they failed to apply by the deadline. As long as they continued to receive contract renewals, non-Caymanian government workers could remain in the Islands – an option not available to their private sector counterparts.  

However, the newly amended Immigration Law – which took effect on Oct. 25, according to the government notice – also states that if civil servants apply for permanent residence and are unsuccessful, they would be barred from re-applying for residency again for nine years.  

“The change brings government employees in line with work permit holders, who are not allowed to apply again for permanent residence until they have had a break-in-stay of at least one year and re-qualify after a further eight years of residence in the islands,” the government notice states.  

“Government workers are not, however, required to take the break in stay and may continue to reside [in Cayman] for as long as they hold a valid contract of employment.” That situation may soon change.  

Officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed in late October that the issue would be worked out as part of “Phase II” of the government’s immigration review program. “It is intended that the recommendations around this subject will be made to Cabinet and then the Legislative Assembly during ‘Phase II’ of the immigration review, which is already under way,” said ministry chief officer Eric Bush. “It is expected that the term limit for civil servants will be in line with the current term limit – i.e. nine years.”  

Similar proposals were considered by the government in 2007 but never went anywhere. A review of the matter completed for the governor’s office by civil service chiefs was never made public.  

At the time, there were between 1,300 and 1,400 non-Caymanians employed in the civil service. Today, there are fewer than 900, according to the latest figures provided by the Immigration Department.  

One of the key points of debate in 2007 concerned which government workers would be affected by the term-limit legislation.  

Certain government departments that employ more foreign workers would be harder hit by a term-limit policy than others. Particularly, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the Department of Education, which employed a large number of non-Caymanians at the time.  

That has not changed. According to the Department of Education, 54 percent of all teachers in the public school system are non-Caymanian. In the RCIPS, about 58 percent of all police officers are non-Caymanian.