For the first time in more than a year, the number of work permits currently held by non-Caymanians has surged above the 21,000 mark, according to data supplied by the Cayman Islands Immigration Department.
The total number of work permits held in Cayman on Jan. 22, including government contracts and workers awaiting word on permanent residence applications, was 21,403. That’s up 8 percent from the same time a year ago and up 5 percent from the last time the Cayman Compass measured the statistics in July.
According to records obtained by the Compass under the Freedom of Information Law, the number of work permits has risen steadily throughout the year, increasing by more than 1,600 permits. The information provided by immigration on the permit numbers serves as a “snapshot” of what exists at the time, but the numbers can be used over a period of time to establish trends.
There appeared to be several reasons for the jump in permits, comparing January 2014 data with this month. One major factor was that work permit renewal numbers surged by more than 1,000 – a potential result of government’s decision to extend the former seven-year term limit on residence to nine years for non-Caymanian workers.
The number of work permit grants for non-Caymanian workers who were given their first full-year permit stayed almost exactly the same during the period.
Nearly all of the individuals waiting to hear the results of their permanent residence applications under the old Immigration Law, those “working by operation of the law,” had been dealt with. Only 46 such cases remained on the department’s books as of Wednesday. However, they seemed to have been replaced by close to 500 people who had been given permission to continue working in the islands. Many of those individuals are now awaiting word on permanent residence applications filed under the new system. None of those applications has been heard since the Immigration Law was amended in October 2013.
Government has not provided a precise figure on how many people are currently awaiting word on permanent residence applications, but it is believed to be in the hundreds. The number of temporary work permits – non-Caymanian workers here on three- or six-month contracts – increased by some 400 people between January 2014 and this month. Typically, temporary permits are granted to seasonal workers in the tourism industry.
Cayman Enterprise City was also responsible for part of the work permit increase. The number of people employed in Cayman’s “special economic zone” rose from 135 last January to 209 yesterday – a 55 percent increase.
Government contracts held by non-Caymanians during the period stayed about the same, falling by a dozen or so during the year.
There was little change over the year in the nationalities of people who hold the greatest number of work permits in the islands.
According to the Jan. 22 report, Jamaicans [8,583], Filipinos [2,743], Britons [1,838], Americans [1,359] and Canadians [1,107] held 73 percent of all the work permits and government contracts in the Cayman Islands. Other nationalities holding a significant number of work permits included Indians , Hondurans , Irish , Nicaraguans  and South Africans .
The largest percentage increase recorded during the period for any one nationality with a significant number of permits was for Nepalese, whose permit numbers rose by 20 percent during the past year.