The number of work permits held in the Cayman Islands took an unusual jump this summer, a time when tourism-related businesses in the islands are typically winding down and permit numbers tend to dip. The total number of work permits held by non-Caymanians, including government contracts, went from 19,903 in early April to 20,360 in early July.
However, it appears most of the increase – nearly 450 work permits – is not due to new jobs being created, but rather to a new immigration status granted to expatriate workers who are either applying for permanent residence or who are appealing the denial of full-year work permit renewals.
A total of 437 people had been granted what is known as “permission to continue working” by the Immigration Department as of July 1.
The “permission” status, granted by the chief immigration officer or her designated staff, must be given before a non-Caymanian who has reached their nine-year term limit for residence on the islands. If it is not granted, that person would be required to vacate the territory, even if their application for permanent resident status or appeal of a work permit renewal was still being considered.
Prior to the enactment of the revised Immigration Law, 2013, in October, anyone who applied for permanent residence status or who challenged a work permit denial was entitled to remain in Cayman until their case was decided. The previous legislation referred to it as “working by operation of law.”
However, that ability to automatically remain no longer exists under the new Immigration Law, and applicants must submit a separate form to the Immigration Department in order to remain legally resident. According to department records, 437 people have done so since October 2013.
Another 118 non-Caymanians remain in the islands under the previous “working by operation of law” status. They are also awaiting decisions on permanent residence applications or appeals of work permit denials.
An overall backlog of both permanent resident applications and Caymanian status grant applications has begun to form under the new legislation, which is just more than eight months old.
Cayman Islands Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans said during the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in June that more than 400 applications for permanent residence before the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board are still awaiting decisions.
About half of those applications were filed under the former Immigration Law and will be handled according to provisions of the old law, prior to sweeping amendments passed by lawmakers last October, Ms. Evans said. The other half will be heard under the new law but have so far not been considered.
In addition to the permanent residence applications, another 300 or so applicants seeking the right to be Caymanian are awaiting a decision of the board.
While the numbers may sound daunting, Premier Alden McLaughlin said they actually represent a reduction in the number of backlogged permanent residence and status applications.
“When we took office [in May 2013], there was something like a backlog of 1,000 [permanent residence applications],” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The board is working through essentially 40 applications a week … and has made huge progress.”
The premier also pointed out that permanent residence and status bids require the immigration board to consider quite a bit more information than a standard work permit application, since officials are essentially deciding whether someone can remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
One issue that is still holding up the processing of permanent residence applications under the new Immigration Law is that board members are unsure how to score those applications.
The first section of the permanent residence points system established by the Immigration Law (2013 Revision) awards a potential total of up to 30 points based on the applicant’s job. A person can receive anywhere from zero to 15 points for their job, depending on how much demand there is for that position, based on the current ratio of Caymanians to non-Caymanians in the labor market.
Up to an additional 15 points can be awarded for a “priority job,” meaning a position that is needed for advancement of national economic, cultural or social objectives on a long-term basis.
The positions considered “priority jobs” have not yet been defined.