The uncomfortable truth about unemployment

The relationship between “work permits” and “work” continues to be erroneously overstated in the Cayman Islands.

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.

They don’t.


  1. The problem with most Caymanians, is that they will nod their heads in agreement about things they know is a fact, but not many have the guts to tell it like it is.
    Most businesses are owned by Caymanians, and YES many of them discriminate against each other. That is their mentality to be judge and jury of another Caymanian applying for a job. Majority of Caymanians who are in big businesses carry the slave mentality of wanting workers to be bowing to them and the Yes Massa, No Massa welcome.
    I have nothing personal against a foreigner coming to Cayman and looking a job; but I do have a problem with those who get a job or do not get a job and then want to disrespect the people in all ways.
    The above report is a lot of gibberish and most times as I have said it before News informers, whether it is on paper of on the radio need to stop fanning the expatriate Caymanian fire just to make business, bringing up and repeating old news causing unrest among the people. Read the report. It is not a good thing, and unless some thoughts is given to this there will always be the resentment and divineness among the people.

  2. I find this whole Caymanian employment issue a complete joke.
    It is as clear as crystal that there are plenty of jobs, the problem is the Caymanians dont want those ones….
    Cayman is one of the few places in the world where the service/hospitality industry is almost exclusively imported.
    Why is my waiter from India? Why is my cashier Honduran? Why is my plumber Jamaican, Why is my bartender Canadian? Why is my hotel door man from Guyana? Why is the receptionist at XYZ South African?

    I would say the staff at 90% of restaurants are imported… WHY??? HOW??? makes no sense whats so ever1
    You want a job, go bus some tables… the system , culture and sense of entitlement is seriously flawed.

  3. Mike.
    There are two simple reasons why your waiter is from India and your plumber is Jamaican.

    The reason for the waiter and other low paid jobs is that there is no reason to take a low paid job when one can be paid more by the government for staying at home.

    On the one hand I applaud the decision to ensure the unemployed are paid enough to live on. But on the other it means there is no logical reason to work for $7 per hour when you can get $10 per hour to stay at home. I wouldn’t and you wouldn’t either.

    There is a similar issue and for similar reasons in London UK.

    A major reason for the lack of Caymanian plumbers etc. is the lack of a trade school teaching these skills.
    Again it comes down to education.

    Please correct me but I understand that you object to Caymanian employers wanting employees who will say, "Yes sir", and do as they are asked.
    Isn’t that what every employer wants?

  4. there are 2 people I see every morning and I don’t think they are getting $10/hr or $1/hr for sitting at home because one is a lady that stands on the side of the road every morning selling news paper rain or shine… the other is the man that has his cart of coconuts he cuts down and sells to the tourists… they aren’t too proud to make an honest dollar and contribute to society. The rest of them are bums and need to wake up to reality.

  5. This is all a joke now but in the very near future no one will be laughing. This i know from the recorded historical history of the human race. We same to do the same things over and over.

  6. Cayman is different to most other countries because most places school leavers entry the workplace and are trained on the job or with education for that job. But in Cayman we have a mail order employment market; where instead of giving people opportunities and and train them to in aspects of the work they have less experience in we avoid that and get our mail order employee on a work permit.

    The person is recruited from overseas based on a CV normally and they employer can only hope they are as good as they say they are because it is expensive to bring them here so they get a year to work out – this is not so the the Caymanian they let go within weeks.

    In every country there is a percentage of the population that thinks the world owes them a living and they should not have to work for it. Yes there are those people here and not all of them are Caymanians. Vice versa not all Caymanians have this view, the majority work equally hard as the expat and many own their own businesses.

    The problem is enforcement of law – which cleary says a work permit is only for a job where there is no suitable Caymanian then it goes on to say as employer who have a responsible to train your employees. What is does not say is you can get a mail order employee if you want.

    So if you want crime and higher taxes to pay for the social services costs associated with high local unemployment carry on blames everybody but yourself for the issues of this country. But if you want to be apart of the solution give a Caymanian an opportunity to proof themselves and train them when they are weak and watch crime disappear and the country grow again – why Caymanian keep their money in Cayman and shop local.

    The uncomfortable truth is that we allow mail order employees to come here because they are easy to exploit than locals because they beleive they have little to no rights and normally paid for their own passage to get here. If you continue down this route you will see low cost professionals next – why pay USD 80,000 for accountant when you can get one for 30,000 with the same qualifiactions!!

  7. Sam
    I’m not saying that people are lazy for not taking a low paid job. I’m saying they have to be nuts to do so if they can receive more for staying at home.

    It is not the government’s fault. It is a side consequence of a well meaning system intended to provide a safety net.

    And sorry, lawyers, accountants, plumbers and electricians don’t leave school and then get on the job training, they get secondary education.

    Perhaps this country is too small to afford a trade school. What can we do to help our young people get further education?

  8. I’m saying they are lazy… you don’t go anywhere sitting on your a$$…
    I guarantee you if you walked into a business and showed passion, desire and commitment to succeed, which also means taking courses at home and passing them.. any company would hire you. Dont walk in with nothing and expect everything.. cause you going to get what your worth… nothing.

  9. Well-written and well-said.

    Believe it or not…there is more of a correlation between Unemployed locals and Mt. Trashmore…than to work permit holders.

    The issue of unemployed Caymanians, including those who job-hop due to poor performance or non-qualification, has an underlying relationship to cultural attitude and immediate gratification (self).

    Similarly, the pile-up of motor vehicle tires, bottles and other garbage is related to little consideration for environmental impact, and again, immediate self-gratification (materialistic lifestyle).

    When political leaders initiate changes that force locals to be more altruistic, instead of just thinking about benefit to self only, I bet these two problems will gradually subside.

  10. At school, I was taught that there were 2 main business models
    Large companies benefit from "economies of scale" – using their size and capital to create products efficiently at budget prices.
    At the other end of the scale, entrepreneurial businesses can respond to subtle changes in the marketplace and be in a position to take advantage of new opportunity almost instantly.
    Cayman’s bureaucratic framework takes away that advantage and in many ways stifles small business and is "anti-preneurial."
    How much Government is too much?
    Well, divide a third of a billion dollars by Cayman’s population and you’ll get a good idea!

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