Significant confusion has arisen in recent months as to whether work permit holders employed in one occupation can “switch jobs” to a completely different profession, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson acknowledged last week.
Mr. Manderson, responding to a private members’ motion filed in the Legislative Assembly, said it had always been his understanding that non-Caymanian permit holders could not change professions during the term of their work permit unless certain “special circumstances” were met.
However, both Mr. Manderson and North Side MLA Ezzard Miller – who brought the motion last week – said they had been informed of instances where this was happening.
“We … have heard that the [Immigration] Law is not being applied consistently and fairly across the board and there appears to be some confusion as to whether [section 50 of the law] still operates, which obviously it does,” Mr. Manderson, the former chief immigration officer, said. “We’re also hearing stories of persons being allowed to self-release themselves from work permits. That is a new concept that I am not familiar with.”
Mr. Miller said he was informed by “several employers” that the various immigration-related boards were ignoring section 50 of the Immigration Law.
Section 50 of the law states that, during the currency of a work permit, the holder of that permit may not change employers unless the board believes there are “special circumstances” involved. Those special circumstances can include someone being made redundant from a position, the worker being victimized at his or her current workplace or if the employee has been granted what is known as a “release letter” from his or her employer.
Mr. Miller said the purpose of section 50 of the Immigration Law was partly to protect an employer’s initial investment in a work permit holder, in other words incurring the costs of bringing someone into the islands for work and having that person leave the job within a few months.
The other reason, he said, was to protect local residents’ prospects for employment in the islands.
“The boards are granting permits … to change employers in the absence of a release letter or in the absence of the demonstration of special circumstances,” Mr. Miller said. “If this interpretation is allowed to continue, it means that every work permit holder is equal to Caymanians in their choice of jobs.”
Mr. Manderson said the government’s Ministry of Home Affairs has requested a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office as to how the specific section of the Immigration Law should be enforced. At any rate, the deputy governor believes it is the government’s intention to prohibit the practice of “job-hopping” going forward.
Mr. Manderson said the Immigration Law was changed in the 1990’s due to a number of situations where the department had seen free movement of work permits holders from job to job.
One case the deputy governor recalls involved a person who accepted a work permit as a gas station attendant who, three months after arriving on the island, changed permits to work as an accountant.
After the law was changed to prevent that practice, Mr. Manderson said the pendulum swung in the other direction, with work permit holder who were “stuck” in jobs being victimized by employers – either through lack of payment, poor housing conditions or poor treatment on the job. In those instances, he said, the law now allows a person to get out of the situation.
The current law, he said, aims to protect both the employee and the employer.