Immigration policy: We need 'addition,' not 'subtraction'

About this time last year, Court Security Officer Emelson Principe was honored for outstanding service to the Cayman Islands Judicial Administration.

Last week, when a defendant being escorted to court made a desperate attempt to flee, Mr. Principe was at the ready — and jumped in to foil the escape.

Hours later, Mr. Principe was lauded by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie as the “embodiment of service” and described by Court Administrator Kevin McCormac as “efficient, dedicated and considerate.”

The next day, Mr. Principe was gone … back to his native Philippines, and away from Cayman for at least a year. The reason: “fulfillment of an immigration requirement.”
It is a scenario such as this which crystallizes the absurdity of our country’s approach to work permits, residency and permanent status.

While this Editorial Board doesn’t know the particulars of Mr. Principe’s immigration file, from what we’ve heard about his on-the-job performance (which has been deemed admirable by the judiciary, court staff and the Cayman Compass’s own court reporter), it seems to us that Mr. Principe’s farewell ceremony last week should instead have been a celebration — of his being given permission to stay in our country as long as he likes.

In the words of Mr. McCormac, “Nothing was ever too much trouble for him, and he consistently performed his duties to a standard over and above that which could reasonably have been expected.”

Isn’t that the kind of professional Cayman should be welcoming, and embracing?
Consider the following: Mr. Principe, an employee of private contractor National Security Services Limited, had worked at the Law Courts Building for four years. For the last 18 months, he had also served as an acting court marshal when required. Despite his exemplary record of service, Mr. Principe had been instructed by authorities to leave Cayman.

His return flight was booked for Christmas Eve. On his final day at work, Dec. 23, he espied an offender attempting to break free from custody. Though he knew it was his last day on the job, that it was the eve of his departure, that he was risking his personal safety on behalf of a country that had officially spurned him — Mr. Principe also apparently knew he had a duty to perform, and he threw himself into the fray.
Why, again, was he ordered to leave?

The truth is, much of the extraordinariness of Mr. Principe’s example is that he was recognized publicly for being extraordinary. You don’t have to live and work in Cayman for very long before you witness the seemingly arbitrary eviction of a remarkable person, who just didn’t have the right connections or job title or bank account balance, yet who made Cayman a better place while they were here, and worse off after they left.

Perhaps, in the case of Mr. Principe (and by extension all the overperforming, underappreciated expatriates in “humble” occupations such as security guard, housekeeper, nanny, store clerk and landscaper), the appropriate question to ask is this: Why — if it were never a possibility that they could join Cayman’s community, and that their treatment by authorities would be as expendable, interchangeable and non-specialized vessels for labor — did we ever invite them into our country in the first instance?

And why on earth would they accept?

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now


  1. What stupidity is this?

    One can only assume that the editorial board is aware that Mr. Principe was on a work permit and that the terms of his employment did not guarantee him the right to have that permit renewed or the right to remain indefinitely in the Cayman Islands once the work permit had expired.

    It is expected that the people who are in the country on work permits represent professionals in their respective areas and it should not be something surprising or special for them to perform their jobs as expected (maybe it is to the editorial board).

    Is it that the editorial board of the Cayman Compass is not satisfied with reporting the news and providing a fair and balanced analysis of current events? Why does the editorial board want to dictate what the immigration policies of the country should be and why are they more than happy to do their part to further divide what has been in recent years an increasingly divided society.

  2. Editorial board, with due respect I think we need not create a mountain out of a mole hill here. First, we do not know the facts of Mr Principe file at the immigration, and not because he extended a long arm on the time of his departure, that he should be considered/exempted any different from anyone else under the immigration laws.
    I will not pick to pieces your final paragraph, However,… Note: That is not what it is all about.

  3. Mr Editor, your observations are good, but hiding behind this story is a sad truth, which is that there are plenty of people here in the Islands whose time is not well spent, who could be doing the jobs that Mr Principe and others are doing. When I was running a large operation in Grand Cayman, I was saddened by how many of our employees (mostly women) were forced to support a whole family whilst the partner did not have any work. What prevents those people from doing the jobs that otherwise require imported labour?

  4. Thanks Mr. Boland and Ms Twlya for your comments.

    I truly hope this is not another way of persuading our dear leaders to amend immigration laws and regulations for the benefit of everyone except their own people?

    We have to accept that we will find good people who have to leave Cayman and people who may have done one good deed to not be automatically be granted extensions to their stay. Are we going to advocate simply changing laws for workers who came here, supposedly with good intentions and knew they were on contacts?

    As a citizen with a legal expectation to be shown respect for my constitutional rights by my government, as I have respected my duties and responsibilities as a citizen, what about opportunities for citizens here now?

    Based on the above observations, If contracted workers truly feel that the terms of a work permit mean citizenship, clearly it could be argued that our government must seek to SUBTRACT even more time from period length of work permits if such an entitlement exists in our guest workers.

    At least if this individual is such an outstanding employee, I wish him all the best as he seems to have the skills and now experience to do well when he returns home or seeks employment in another country. Let’s continue to encourage recruitment of persons like Mr. Principe.

  5. I think the point of the editorial has been lost on the other commentors. Yes there are immigration laws, and yes they should be followed, and yes surely he and everyone else on a permit knows they will likely be rolled at some point. The point the editorial is making is that the Cayman Islands has a system in place for individuals to become permanent residents, with presumably a goal of allowing individuals to stay who will positively contribute to the community. Since that is the case, shouldn’t this person be a prime candidate for permanent residency? Or since he doesn’t have a million dollars in the bank does he not get enough points?

    Mr Rank does make a good point that these are the types of jobs which locals should be taking, but that’s a whole different conversation. I’m willing to bet his position will be filled by another expat, so in that case how is the community served by sending one proven individual to his home country and bringing another to Cayman?

  6. I made my comments on the editorial re changing immigration regulations but on a personal note, I have worked with Mr. Principe and I agree he has shown us the type of worker we are extremely grateful for having as workers here in the Cayman Islands. He was ALWAYS very respectful, friendly and helpful to me and I observed the same genuine attitude to others with whom he interacted.

    My personal respect for him and thanks for his respectful, helpful manner with which he assisted me at the Courts Office does not mean my views on immigration should be changed or relaxed for his benefit or in any way undermines his contributions.

    We have to be able to stand firm when it comes to all our laws and regulations and maybe have more input on employers and foreign co-workers who consistently perpetuate a toxic work environment for so many, and result in constructive dismissal and bullying. Are we ready to publicise the misbehaviours by those employees to show a balanced view?

    So yes, personally I am not surprised that Mr. Principe received an award as an outstanding employee and persons like him could be welcomed back in the future, if there is a need for his services. My desire for fair practices and less changes to our laws for guest workers are based on objective assessment of seeking a sustainable and fair approach to employment opportunities for citizens today and the future.

    All the best Mr. Principe.

  7. @Christoph Walser:

    Thank you for the feedback.

    The reason why many similar positions continue to be filled by expats is because of unscrupulous business owners and managers that know that it is easier for them to get away with exploiting expats than it is with Caymanians.

  8. If personal opinion is allowed to decide whether a good worker stays longer than their contract stated, how many will also agree to decreasing time/terminating contracts of persons who receive numerous complaints about the CIG workers who have been demonstrating the opposite type of behaviour displayed by Mr. Principe (again someone I found to be a respectful, helpful officer at the courts office)?

    If we would like the outstanding examples to be considered, are we willing to allow locals to also state their experiences of negative attitudes of persons seeking PR and have that weighted as a negative on the point system?

    At the end of the day, all employees can be replaced and as Caymanians, we are constantly reminded of that, so maybe there needs to be greater understanding by contracted workers in private and public sectors to also monitor their sense of entitlement.

  9. I can believe that as Christoph say this position will most likely be filled by another Expat, The reasons as he also said are a whole different conversation and is regular discussed. I can also believe what Mack is saying about unscrupulous business owners and managers. But I have to ask if these things are going on why is the CIG dealing with the agencies that have these practices?

  10. One of the things that we must clearly note here Ms Andrea, is that native Caymanians are clearly out numbered. In so observing we have to be careful about who is given the opportunity cast votes and make changes. Watch the scale of agrees and disagrees when certain people want to hear things their way, but they never comment with a name. I respect that the people of Philippines display good manners, however many of us in high positions are clearly sucking that up as slave mentality, Try stop it now……..Everyone has their plan.

  11. @Michael Davis:

    I had some of the same questions so I decided to do some research to help answer those questions.

    I spent the better part of a year meeting and talking with many expats (mostly in the lower income group) about working conditions, financial compensation and other similar matters. I heard many complaints about various forms of abuse but whenever I spoke to anyone about reporting any of the abuse it was always the same response that they did not want to jeopardize their position and had no choice but to accept the abuse. Many spoke about coming from countries where the money they made in Cayman could go so much further and that they would just continue to say nothing so that they can continue to provide some form of financial assistance to family members back home.

  12. Many of us will never get to know the whole truth what take place in Cayman, Maybe immigration policy is adding and subtracting in the wrong places; and unless your are here there and everywhere all the time, and making good observations, you will never know.
    The rich and the famous, the upper class foreigners, and Caymanians are not very street wise to lower income groups. Beside most abuse is taken of just one group or nation in lower income groups, and I would still prefer to deal with them and their feistiness, because if fight broke out tomorrow, they will be the first to stand by our side. Ever had your car broke down on the road, a flat tyre, or hitching a ride in the rain? See who is going to stop and help you. Take a guess who. Ever went to a restaurant or supermarket and was short of a ten cent. Who will give you one? Take a guess who. Although if a mango is missing from your tree, it maybe them take it, or they may pour water in your shampoo bottle, or take half the rice in the bag, but I can assure you that you will definitely loose your husband and your business to different nations of cunning experts who are far smarter than you are. Make time for your own family and business or you will loose them under the addition or subtraction of the policy.

  13. Michael I am not referring to myself, I am referring to what has happened to many persons I know in Cayman whom this has happened to, when I write it is always about what things I know about. Thinks I can back up.