The Cayman Islands now has more than 22,000 foreign workers employed on work permits, government contracts, special economic zone permits or awaiting the outcome of permanent residence applications.
That high a number of non-Caymanian workers has not been seen since mid-2010, when the islands were in the midst of a rapid economic decline following the world economic recession of 2008-2009. Non-Caymanian worker numbers went from around 26,500 in mid-2008 to as low as 18,500 during 2011-2012 before stabilizing in early 2013.
In the past two years, the number of non-Caymanian workers here has grown steadily, according to Immigration Department records, from approximately 20,360 in July 2014, to 21,400 in January 2015 to 22,232 as of Thursday.
Despite the rise in non-Caymanian labor, which makes up about 51 percent of the total local workforce, overall unemployment declined sharply in 2014.
The Office of Economics and Statistics confirmed Thursday earlier reports that put Cayman’s unemployment rate at 4.7 percent overall and Caymanian unemployment at 7.9 percent, down from 9.4 percent the year before. The economics office figures are for calendar year 2014. Work permits in January, the typical start of tourism high season for the Cayman Islands, were about 800 lower than the statistics released by the Immigration Department last week. Mid-July is typically the start of the seasonal decline in work permits for the tourism and hospitality industries.
The largest group of non-Caymanian workers to increase between this summer and last was in the area of work permit grants and work permit renewals.
Work permit grants, the initial award of a one- or two-year working contract by a private sector company to a non-Caymanian, went from 8,103 total grantees living in the islands as of July 2014 to 8,462 this month.
Work permit renewals, for non-Caymanian workers who already obtained a full-year contract and who are having that contract renewed, increased from 7,163 in July 2014 to 8,028 this month.
The number of temporary work permits – those granted for only three or six months – did not significantly increase from year to year, statistics showed.
Immigration figures as of Thursday indicated there were more than 500 people staying in the islands after having been granted “permission to continue working” or PCW status by the chief immigration officer.
Most of those individuals, though not all, have applied for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life – and are awaiting word on the fate of their application.
A backlog of applications for permanent residence under the old Immigration Law has been almost entirely wiped out, although immigration records showed about 30 people were still in Cayman under the former “working by operation of law” legal status.
The immigration records also indicated a modest increase in government hiring of non-Caymanians for the first time in several years.
The total number of non-Caymanians here on government contracts was put at 900 as of Thursday. A year ago that number was 862 individuals.
Public sector contracts for non-Caymanians remained quite low compared to 2006-2007, which saw some 1,400 non-Caymanians employed here in government jobs.
Work permits for individuals employed within the Special Economic Zone, known as Cayman Enterprise City, have continually increased since being introduced more than three years ago.
Immigration records reported about 250 work permits being held locally by economic zone companies, nearly a 50 percent increase from the same time a year ago.