Gov’t revives business ‘accreditation’ for immigration

Acknowledging that companies cannot be forced through penalties and enforcement to hire people they do not want to hire, Premier Alden McLaughlin says government will instead “incentivize” businesses to hire Caymanians.

To this end, he said the government will seek to update and reintroduce an “accreditation” scheme for local businesses that will, in some cases, make work permits and other immigration-related applications easier to get for companies that “play by the rules.”

An accreditation scheme for local businesses was first proposed in 2008 by then-Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson as a way to create positive incentives for employers to train and hire Caymanian workers. The proposal was never fully developed, although it was generally supported by both political parties at the time.

Premier McLaughlin said Wednesday that it is his government’s intention to bring back the accreditation scheme during the 2014/15 budget year, which begins on July 1.

“We do have to be careful about how insular and restrictive we are with respect to immigration,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “There is [the tendency], particularly in tough times like this, to want more enforcement, to want to force companies to employ Caymanians and to say we don’t want more work permits.

“I have concluded that we will never, ever, through enforcement or otherwise, compel companies to hire people they do not want to hire. The Cayman Islands government would never be able to afford the level of resources necessary to have that kind of enforcement regime. For 40 years, we have striven to drive employer behavior by virtue of penalties. I’m not suggesting that we remove those provisions from the law … but we have to develop an accreditation scheme which incentivizes employers to hire Caymanians and to train Caymanians.

“We’re not going to succeed by trying to force them by threat, intimidation and prosecution. In my view, it’s never going to work.”

Mr. McLaughlin said most of the work on the employer accreditation system was already done during the People’s Progressive Movement administration of 2005 to 2009. However, he did not indicate whether all of the specific proposals drawn up back then would be carried forward in the next year.

As it was introduced in January 2009, the Immigration Accreditation System created separate tiers of rankings for businesses, from those that are least compliant with the country’s immigration laws and procedures to those that are most active in the community and do the best job of training and promoting Caymanians.

Under that plan, all businesses in Cayman that hold trade and business licenses and that employed at least one work permit holder would have had to fill out a form that sought to judge the business on six criteria: compliance with Cayman’s licensing regulations, talent development programs, employment practices, support for community programs, Caymanian business ownership, and the company’s activity in creating new job opportunities. Based on the information provided, and research by Immigration Department officials, the companies would then either be accredited or not. If they were granted accreditation, they would then be ranked in one of six tiers by Immigration.

If companies were not accredited, they would not have been able to get new work permits, or have any current work permits renewed. Higher-ranked employers would have been given certain benefits under the islands’ immigration regime.

The rankings in that tier system were as follows:

Probationary accreditation: The lowest level, which confirms a company is meeting all legal requirements to operate in Cayman, including providing adequate healthcare and pension benefits to all its employees. These companies can receive work permit renewals only; they cannot apply for new permits.

Tier 1: All legal requirements have been met, and the company has a viable business operation, including contracts for services. These companies can apply for new work permits and renewals but not key employee status for any of their workers.

Tier 2: These companies have met all requirements in Tier 1, but the company also has shown evidence of talent development programs, community programs, and good employment practices. These firms can make key employee applications.

Tiers 3 and 4: The businesses are awarded additional points in the scoring system for more active participation in talent development and community programs. They are also awarded points for full Caymanian ownership and increasing job opportunities in the islands. These companies will have work permit decisions made by Immigration within three days in most cases and can also have a dedicated accounts manager within the Immigration Department. Applications for key employee status and business staffing plans are also expedited.

Tier 5: The highest ranking for accredited businesses will also be given a dedicated Immigration accounts manager, and work permit applications are guaranteed to be handled within three days. Other applications will be dealt with on an expedited basis without payment of an added fee.

The 2009 proposal would have still required companies to apply for a business staffing plan if they employed 15 or more work permit holders.