In a front page story in yesterday’s Cayman Compass, we reported that more than 12,000 people have gained permanent residence or Caymanian status since 2008, according to Cayman Islands Department of Immigration statistics.
Even working with an overly generous estimate of Cayman’s total population — say 60,000 — that suggests that one out of every five people living in Cayman has been minted a permanent resident (6,600 people) or full-blown Caymanian (5,600) within the past seven years.
Put another way, what it means to be “Caymanian” today is far different from what it meant 100 years ago, or 50, or even 10.
The avenues toward claiming the right to live permanently in Cayman are as diverse as the pool of applicants. Many inherited it from Caymanian parents or grandparents. Others received it at the altar, by marrying a Caymanian. Others truly earned it, by living and working in Cayman long enough to gain residence, or even longer to then go through the “naturalization” process for status.
Are the 5,600 new Caymanians less “Caymanian” than those who can trace their ancestry back through West Bay for eight generations? Or those whose last names happen to appear on road signs and district markers?
In the opinion of the community, those may be interesting questions to ponder, though it’s unlikely the exercise will yield definitive answers. What is definitive, however, in the eyes of the law is that as soon as the ink dries on a status grant document, that person is every bit as Caymanian as anyone else, right down to the bone.
And this influx of new Caymanians and residents, as Premier Alden McLaughlin noted upon seeing the figures, is a fine thing for this country. He said, “The numbers here are clear evidence the system is working and working well.”
We concur, to a point. Limiting ourselves to the specific context of Premier McLaughlin’s remark (i.e., the statistics from 2008 to 2014), we agree.
It is no stretch to say that a country becomes its immigration policy, particularly for a small jurisdiction such as Cayman, where any plans for significant growth must incorporate significant numbers of people from beyond our borders. As this Editorial Board continues to argue, Cayman’s economy needs more people living in this country, be they Caymanians or foreigners. We will, however, also observe that simple growth in population numbers is no panacea, since not all potential immigrants are created “equal.”
The residents Cayman should be seeking out are those with existing ties to the country, those who have committed themselves in a demonstrable way to the community, and especially those productive newcomers who will contribute economically and socially to the future of the country. The numbers from 2008 to 2014 appear to indicate that this has been the case.
But here is where we may diverge from Premier McLaughlin. The statistics we (and he) examined were created under the old immigration law, which Premier McLaughlin’s government replaced last year with a new system that is expected to make it much more difficult for expatriates to obtain permanent residence.
If the number of approvals for permanent residence declines dramatically under the new law, we would assert that the new system will not yield a population robust enough to fund the ever-growing burden of government’s operating expenses and long-term unfunded liabilities (not to mention our much-needed infrastructure and capital projects).
What will Premier McLaughlin say then?