The number of active work permits held in the Cayman Islands rose above 23,000 this month, reaching a level not seen in the past six years.
According to Immigration Department data previously reported by the Cayman Compass, the last time permits and government contracts granted to non-Caymanian workers went above 23,000 was in March 2010.
The number is still a far cry from the more than 26,000 permits and contracts held in 2008, prior to the global recession.
Periodic checks of immigration records for non-Caymanian workers over the past 18 months have revealed an overall 13 percent increase in work permits, government contracts and other temporary worker statuses. Those permits and contracts increased from approximately 20,360 in July 2014, to 21,400 in January 2015, and then to 22,232 in July 2015. Last week, there were 23,097 work permits and government contracts reported to be active in the Cayman Islands.
“I see it as a positive sign, as an improvement in economic development and growth,” said Chamber of Commerce President Paul Pearson.
The immigration work permit numbers vary slightly from week to week as permits are canceled, workers depart or businesses change. Any numbers given at a specific time function as a “snapshot” of what exists, immigration officials have noted. However, over a period of time, the numbers can be used to track general trends.
Over the past five years, work permit numbers have increased steadily in Cayman, from a low of about 18,500 in 2011-2012 to last week’s tally of more than 23,000.
Speaking on behalf of the Chamber, Cayman’s largest business representative organization, Mr. Pearson said the reports from the hospitality and services industry seem quite positive, but he noted that the economic success enjoyed at the moment could be “fragile.”
For instance, while international oil prices have declined sharply, providing some relief to motorists and utilities consumers, it could also hit travelers or potential travelers employed by the U.S. oil and gas industries in the coming months. “They’re not taking a hit next week, but we could see it in two or three months’ time,” he said.
The sheer number of permits and government contract-holders comes as something of a surprise to the Chamber. Mr. Pearson noted that members had been complaining to the Chamber Council members regarding the difficulties of receiving work permits. Smaller firms, in particular, he said, reported having difficulties with the complex permit process, while the larger companies were generally “able to handle it better.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin said last month that government expects Cayman’s “modest” economic growth of 2 percent annually to continue during 2016, and that ongoing development played a major role in the growth.
“There are a number of impressive major development projects under way or in the planning stages that will help bring more growth and employment opportunities,” the premier said. “This government believes the key to tackling poverty is not giving handouts but creating employment. Growth delivered by the private sector is the most important determinant of employment, but we as a government also have a direct role to play in helping Caymanians overcome important barriers to their getting jobs.”
The government is expected to soon release unemployment figures for 2015, but the premier declined to comment when asked about those Monday.
Work permit grants, meaning the initial award of a one- or two-year working contract by a private sector company to a non-Caymanian, increased from 8,042 total grantees living in the islands as of January 2015 to 8,804 this month.
Work permit renewals for non-Caymanian workers who already obtained a full-year contract and whose contracts are being renewed, increased from 7,762 in January 2015 to 8,072 this month. The number of temporary work permits – those granted for only three or six months – went from approximately 3,700 in January 2015 to more than 4,000 this month.
Immigration figures also indicated there were more than 600 people staying in the islands after having been granted “permission to continue working” or PCW status by the chief immigration officer.
Most but not all of those individuals have applied for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life – and are awaiting word on the result of their application.
The immigration records also indicated a significant increase in government hiring of non-Caymanians.
The total number of non-Caymanians on government contracts as of last week was 976, compared to 875 a year ago.
Public sector contracts for non-Caymanians remained quite low compared to 2006-2007, which saw some 1,400 non-Caymanians employed in government jobs.
Special Economic Zone
Work permits for individuals employed within the Special Economic Zone, known as Cayman Enterprise City, have continually increased since they were introduced more than three years ago.
Immigration records reported about 273 work permits being held by economic zone companies, compared to 210 a year ago.