Here is the truth, demonstrated by statistical evidence: There is no correlation between the number of work permit holders on island and the number of unemployed Caymanians. If anything, more work permits indicate a stronger local economy, meaning more job opportunities for everyone — Caymanians and expatriates.
The danger in the prevailing mis-association presents itself when “work permit holders” become synonymous with “unemployed Caymanians.” Although this mythology is purely fictional, it can lead to very real consequences, such as resentment, divisiveness and disorder. The Chamber of Commerce deserves applause for opposing this trouble-mongering misconception.
As our story in Wednesday’s Compass noted, the Chamber’s comments were issued in direct response to statements made in the Legislative Assembly by Minister of Community Affairs Osbourne Bodden, who, generally, said work permits were far too easy to get. He also called on companies to do more to hire Caymanians.
While we, and the Chamber, disagree with Minister Bodden’s characterization of the work permit process and of employers’ intentions toward the Caymanian community, we won’t at this time expound upon those points of difference. (Sometimes, and this may be the case in this instance, Minister Bodden’s passion tends to drive his utterances.)
Instead, we’ll focus on a goal we should all hold in common — namely, greater economic prospects for all, particularly Caymanians — and discuss how we can get there.
First, we agree with the Chamber and Minister Bodden that Cayman’s immigration system is in dire need of “root and branch” reform.
The defects in Cayman’s immigration process are self-evident to anyone who has had to navigate it, either as an applicant or employer. An example of “Cayman immigration gone awry” graced the front page of Tuesday’s Compass, in a story on a British couple whose dream of moving to Cayman turned into a waking nightmare, punctuated by rejection, as government officials dilly-dallied on their “fast-track” temporary work permit application, while the National Workforce Development Agency lobbed up Caymanian applicants who didn’t suit the employer’s needs.
In the end, the government spent five months considering an application for a three-month work permit, during which time the British couple spent all their savings before having to return home.
Reforming the immigration system would lend business owners greater confidence and allow them to be more agile and efficient. However, the second-hand effects on Caymanian unemployment, while positive, will most likely be marginal.
The immigration system cannot, and should not, function as an employment system. The work permit process isn’t in place to help Caymanians get jobs; it exists so employers can fill roles for which no Caymanian candidates are suitable.
When Minister Bodden sees Caymanian unemployment, and then steers his attention toward employers and work permits, he’s gazing in the wrong direction.
The appropriate government entity isn’t the Department of Immigration, but the Ministry of Education. Simply put, if the government wants to improve Caymanian employment (as it should), then officials must improve Cayman’s education system — primary, secondary, vocational, continuing and tertiary.
The reality is, when seeking out job candidates, the mentality of employers is already “Caymanians first, expatriates last,” for fiscal, rational and, yes, cultural reasons.
If our officials persist in playing at an inappropriate “blame game” — that is, blaming employers for unemployment — then half of the discourse on Cayman’s social and economic problems is based on falsehoods. And we will never be able to address the real issues.
For the good of everyone living in this country, it is time to end the public charade, and once and for all, to expunge the excusatory untruth that most of Cayman’s businesses discriminate against Caymanians.