‘Phase 2’ of immigration reform delayed

Further changes to the Cayman Islands Immigration Law may be recommended in “phase two” of the government’s review of the work permit system used to bring foreign labor in to fill jobs that local residents cannot or will not perform.

However, the timing of the changes – which were initially proposed to go before the Legislative Assembly in May – will likely have to be pushed back.

“Phase two of the immigration reforms will focus on the work permit system, in particular the relationship between the granting of work permits and unemployment amongst Caymanians,” a government statement issued Thursday noted. “Work is already under way and a committee is prepared to make a preliminary report to Cabinet.

“Depending on how [Progressives political party] caucus and Cabinet want to go, legal changes would be expected.”

One area the government is expected to approve changes is in making work permit applications, required for any non-Caymanian employee working in the islands, online based. The change is hoped to speed up the time it currently takes to have a work permit approved and make it easier for immigration officers to check whether any qualified Caymanians applied for the position.

According to Immigration Law, a qualified Caymanian must be given a job ahead of a permanent resident non-Caymanian or a work permit holder.

Employers applying for a work permit currently, while they are required to declare whether or not a Caymanian applied for a job, still operate under a “trust system” for work permit applications that are handled via privately advertised jobs.

The National Workforce Development Agency recently “launched” its online jobs database to which employers can register and that immigration officials can use to check which Caymanian job-seekers were referred for positions and the reasons their applications were refused.

However, registration to that database is voluntary and there exists no legal mechanism to force local business to use the services of the workforce development agency.

Workforce development officials said recently that they hoped businesses would view the website as a “valuable service” and make use of it, whether or not it was a legal requirement to do so.

The “phase two” immigration review will also consider the current costs of reviewing and work permit application and the costs of work permit fees, particularly for small businesses.

Work permit fees were increased twice by government within the past five years, with the largest increases falling in the generally higher-paid positions.

In the latest round of increases, approved during the 2012/13 budget, the work permit fee increase for certified public accountants went from $10,500 per year to $13,650 per year. Under “legal activities,” a managing director, chief executive, general manager, vice president or president for which a professional qualification is required had been paying $22,500 per year a permit. Now, that cost has increased to $30,375 per year. A paralegal’s work permit went gone from $8,000 per year to $10,400 per year, under the legal activities category.

The “phase two” immigration review is also expected to make recommendations to Cabinet surrounding a potential term limit on residency for non-Caymanian civil servants.

The term limit policy has applied to non-Caymanian private sector workers since January 2004, but a similar measure has never been enacted for government workers.

“It is intended that the recommendations around this subject will be made to Cabinet and then the Legislative Assembly during ‘phase two’ of the immigration review, which is already under way,” said Home Affairs Ministry chief officer Eric Bush in October. “It is expected that the term limit for civil servants will be in line with the current term limit – i.e. nine years.”

Although civil servants’ employment contracts are governed under the Public Service Management Law, it was anticipated that any changes made that affect non-Caymanian civil servants would have to be included in the Immigration Law.