Work permit reform under way

‘Phase 2’ of immigration plan ahead

Having completed a complex and wide-ranging overhaul to its permanent residency regime late last year, the Cayman Islands government is now looking at proposals that could fundamentally change the work permit system it has used for the past three decades.  

The Ministry of Home Affairs, which has responsibility for immigration-related matters, has started a consultant’s review of the entire work permit process, employing the Deloitte accounting firm on a competitively bid $80,000 contract. The review is expected to be substantially complete by year’s end.  

The so-called “Phase 2” of immigration reform is expected to focus on a number of areas, including the role appointed boards should have in the work permit approval process, whether the Immigration Department should continue to be the lead agency in approving work permits, and whether non-Caymanian civil servants should face residency term limits in the same way as private sector workers.  

Ministry chief officer Eric Bush said this week that no final decisions had been made on any of the issues and that it would be up to Cabinet and ultimately the Legislative Assembly to decide what changes to make. If any of the proposals are adopted, he said, legislative amendments would be required, and that the process could take upwards of another year to complete.  

Permit approvals 

One of the items the consultant’s review is considering is the level of involvement the Immigration Department and the National Workforce Development Agency, in the Department of Labour and Pensions, should have in the work permit approval process.  

The issue was discussed recently by Employment Minister Tara Rivers and her ministerial councilor, George Town MLA Winston Connolly, at a press conference held with the workforce agency.  

Both elected members indicated a willingness to accept legal changes that would make government’s labor-related agencies, such as the National Workforce Development Agency and the Department of Labour and Pensions, responsible for work permit vetting and approval.  

“Immigration should be about border control, and the [workforce agency] should be the central body for employment,” Mr. Connolly said.  

Minister Rivers indicated that making such a change would be complex and would require a significant overhaul in immigration and labor legislation. “But I think it is something that can be done,” she said. 

Whatever government agency ends up handling work permit approvals, Mr. Bush said, it is likely that the National Workforce Development Agency would have a much greater role “at the front end” of the permit process.  

How that might practically happen has been a sticking point so far in work permit reform. The general concern is that the 10-member staff at the workforce agency would go from handling 800 clients currently looking for work to vetting some 20,000 applications for work permits and government contracts. Also, immigration officers would still have to be involved in the process for border security reasons, even if the primary permit approval responsibility was placed elsewhere. Currently, work permit approvals are handled either by immigration officers or by politically appointed boards. Government contracts to non-Caymanian workers are approved in the civil service.  

The role of boards  

The work permit reform process also has a general goal, as stated by Premier Alden McLaughlin last year, of reducing the involvement of appointed boards in work permit approvals.  

The Deloitte review seeks to advise government on creating a work permit approval system that is faster than the current process and which also includes less subjectivity in the decision-making.  

Mr. McLaughlin has said he does not believe appointed boards can be entirely taken out of the work permit approval process and that, in any case, some mechanism will be needed for work permit appeals. 

Consultants are also expected to consider whether all the details currently required on work permit applications are necessary for approval of a permit, for instance, requirements that permit-holders provide details on their personal living accommodations, including a landlord’s signature.  

The “big-picture” idea is to eventually have as many work permit, permanent residence and other immigration-related applications as possible dealt with administratively. Now, immigration staff members approve or deny a significant number of work permits. The ruling Progressives government has said its goal is to have immigration handle all initial applications and leave only appeals of permit denials to entities like the Work Permit Board and Business Staffing Plan Board.  

Whether those permit approvals are ultimately handled by the Immigration Department or the National Workforce Development Agency, the goal is the same.  

Some serious discussion will be needed on this point, Mr. McLaughlin has acknowledged. “I’m told by those experts within the system that we’re probably going to need to retain a board to deal with more problematic matters [work permit applications where a qualified Caymanian applied and did not get the job, etc.].”  

Civil service rollover  

This proposal again has arisen some seven years after it was rejected following an internal review by the civil service and governor’s office that was never made public.  

The idea is to subject non-Caymanian civil servants who do not hold permanent residence – of which there are more than 800 – to the same law that limits the time private sector workers without local connections can remain in the country. That term-limit on residency, often referred to as “the rollover policy,” was extended to nine years following amendments to the Immigration Law in 2013.  

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

The difficulty now facing the government in enacting such a policy for civil servants is largely the same as the issues it encountered in 2007. 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, both of which employ a large number of non-Caymanians. 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.  

In the 2007 proposal, the police service would have been exempt from the term-limit policy, according to then-Deputy Head of the Civil Service Peter Gough.  

Also at issue in 2007 was whether various statutory authorities and government-owned companies should continue to be “protected” from the term-limit policy. Many entities, including Cayman Airways and Water Authority-Cayman, are already required to get work permits for expatriate employees. However, others, including the Health Services Authority, were not required to do so. The Health Services Authority staff is about 50 percent non-Caymanian at present.  


  1. Why is it that the government needs the Deloitte accounting firm to tell them what role appointed boards should have in the work permit approval process, whether the Immigration Department should continue to be the lead agency in approving work permits, and whether non-Caymanian civil servants should face residency term limits in the same way as private sector workers?

    It seems to me that the fundamental problem with government is that the people at the very top of these ministries are themselves not properly qualified for the positions that they hold.

    Who are the individuals at Deloitte that are working on these very sensitive and far-reaching matters and have we reached such a level of incompetence within the government leadership that we can’t make any decisions on our own?

  2. Mack, I am as confused as you are. They are being paid to make this analysiz, and make a decisions. They are not being paid so that they can hire someone to make the analysiz while they sit on a chair and say yes go ahead. The reality is, if the recommendations fails, they have someone to blame with. They will say well Deloyte was the one who thought of it, not me!

  3. There certainly seem to be a lot of consultants doing all the thinking that these highly paid and supposedly highly intelligent politicians are supposed to be doing. I mean why put someone in charge of things they lack the knowledge to manage and have to go out to hire someone to do the job they are being paid to do. For instance the Dump, you have someone who was put in charge of it and immediately made a fundamental decision to blow off the offer from Dart to Cap it and build a new waste management facility at no cost to the public purse and who stated that they already had a solution for it. Yet his next step was to form a committee to figure out what to do with it and their next step was to hire someone who’s capable of coming up with a solution. To me this is just senseless and reeks of people who have no idea what they are doing.

    This whole thing with Work Permit reform and the hiring of more consultants is just another example of what seems like a government full of leaders that aren’t qualified, have no ideas of their own and are incapable of making the right decisions on their own.

    It would seem sensible to me that the people campaigning for jobs such as the Minister of finance, minister of education or even minister of the environment would be people who are qualified to carry out these roles, not people who who were placed in these jobs out of appreciate for political party loyalty. These people should get these roles based on their qualifications not their cronyism.

  4. It never hurts to have independent review. Every government in the world does it as well as every big business. The review is only to provide advice on efficiency and can be rejected if it is felt that changes will over reaching public policy effects. Our government offices need revamping to solve the countries greater financial problems. Our offices need to be run better. Government always has and always will have the final say on matters of public policy, but there is no shame in seeking external professional advice. It is prudent to do so, even if the advice is ultimately rejected.

  5. I expect a host of thumbs-down for the comments I’m about to make but, here goes…

    This revolutionisation (reform is too limited a term, imo)of the labour system in Cayman will be a major game changer and will probably have this current CI Govt. going down in history as the one which has done the most to help the majority of its people at a time when they need that help the most.

    The suggestion of moving the work-permit system to the labour authorities is not a new one; under my former pen name, I made this suggestion sometime back in 2011/2012 when the issue of wps was a hot one on the forum.

    This change, if it does go through, will not be without its hitches and problems but it is very clear to all and sundry how corrupt and unworkable the current system is.

    You CANNOT have 2000 of your own nationals, including qualified, experienced professionals, out of work and their positions held by 20,000 or more foreigners on wps, in your country; that is a total travesty of universal justice.

    Any fair and workable system should be ensuring that EVERY Caymanian who is qualified, seeking and willing to work be given FIRST preference for any positions that exist within their country, all other things being taken into account.

    That there has been manipulation of the current system is glaringly evident, with any and many ways used to undermine the system and offer any petty excuses for not hiring Caymanians.

    The few bad apples DO NOT define the Caymanian people and work-force as a whole.

    There has been too much emphasis placed on the money-earning aspects of the current system, with govt. permits now required for jobs such as taxi/tour-bus driving and security, which are usually considered to held by work-permit foreigners or non-Caymanian residents.

    The restrictions on not being able to work for more than one company which is in the laws/regulations of these industries was always meant to stop wp holders from switching companies.

    They are now restricting Caymanians’ freedom of labour in their own country, a direct violation of their European Union human rights and I am personally shocked that no has brought this to the attention of the CI Govt.; it will not be long in coming though, that much I can guarantee.

    It is evident from the recent comments made by Premiere Alden McLaughlin and the Director of Prisons, that the authorities are looking heavily at the crime rate and rates of recidivism and seeing the clear connection to unemployment; that is not rocket-science and should take no mental genius to figure out.

    However, the real issue is not finding jobs for ex-cons…it is making sure that every Caymanian has a right to advance and prosper in their own country.

    Whoever else that is needed to work in Cayman can gladly and happily be granted their wp and work, AFTER our needs are met.

    Linking the labour and wp system is the only way to ensure that this becomes the case.

    I, for one, fully support the idea and hope that it becomes the law.

Comments are closed.