There’s no shame in adopting a restrictive immigration policy, as long as it is communicated clearly and applied fairly.
While it doesn’t make business sense, there is no moral imperative for a country to welcome seekers of employment and residence status.
That is especially true for small, insular territories such as the Cayman Islands, where immigration regulations are as much about social engineering and economic progress as they are about international human rights.
If it is the official policy of the Progressives-led government to strike a hard-line stance against foreigners, and throttle the flow of work permits and status grants, then they should just come out and say so.
If that’s not the Progressives’ intent, then they need to prove it — by their words and their actions.
Since gaining power last year, the Progressives government has made it – in the words of Premier Alden McLaughlin “more difficult to get permanent residency” – but rather than instituting straightforward, stricter standards, the government has done it surreptitiously, through a labyrinthine “points system” that cloaks arbitrariness within the semblance of objectivity, and by changing the game for aspiring residents who have spent the past five or more years playing by an earlier set of rules.
In January, we learned that a third of the 1,500 holders of “term limit exemption permits” – meaning they had been here for more than seven years – had left Cayman without even attempting to apply for permanent residence.
The exodus, responded our premier, shows the government’s approach is succeeding.
(Contrast Premier McLaughlin’s attitude toward prospective residents with the expensive contortions he threw himself into when negotiating with the U.K. on new issuance procedures for passports, all in the name of salvaging precious gilded letters on passport covers and redundant jobs at Cayman’s Passport Office.)
Presumably, the Progressives’ strategy – assuming they have one beyond pandering to nativists among their political base – is to encourage Caymanians to step into roles being vacated by longtime work permit holders.
So far, the plan isn’t working. And neither are some 1,900 Caymanians, according to the most recent figures available, which are from 2012 and thus obsolete.
The persistently ineffective National Workforce Development Agency says it found jobs for about 160 people during the eight months ending Jan. 31. At that pace, it would take the better part of a decade for the NWDA to replace the 1,500 TLEP holders with Caymanians, even assuming, falsely, that the available workers are good fits for the available jobs.
Based on our observations and experiences dealing with immigration, we tend to concur with the scathing remarks delivered in mid-March by Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam, who said, “The cost of doing business and the constant struggles with obtaining local and international labor remains the biggest challenge facing Chamber members and is strangling business development and our efforts to press ahead with a sustainable economic recovery.”
Take heed: Government is, in the words of the head of Cayman’s premier private sector organization, “strangling business development.”
The rampant unemployment among Caymanians is inextricably linked not only to policies on immigration, but multifarious areas such as education and business regulation.
The Caymanian unemployment problem cannot be addressed by clamping down on foreign workers. The NWDA has proven itself to be simply incapable of performing its appointed role.
It’s time for the private sector to band together, pitch in and take over the unemployment issue, leaving the government free to pursue, oh, whatever it is that government does.
The Compass will elaborate on this proposal in future editions of this newspaper.
If Cayman’s government is not going to take care of its business, then it’s up to Cayman’s businesses to take care of it for themselves.