All is not well in Bermuda … and hasn’t been for some time.
Their government’s announced intention to pursue dramatic immigration reforms has plunged our North Atlantic cousin into a state of unrest — somewhere between existential conversation and outright crisis.
On one side, the pro-reform group argues that Bermuda’s economy will continue to atrophy in the absence of changes to the territory’s draconian immigration regime, beginning by making it easier for longtime residents (who have lived in Bermuda for more than 20 years) to seek Bermuda status, and allowing longtime workers (in Bermuda for 15 years or more) to seek long-term residency.
On the other side, opponents protest that the government’s plans will harm existing Bermudians and threaten the destruction of Bermuda’s cultural identity.
While history has conspired to position Bermuda and Cayman on eerily parallel paths, our countries are not quite mirror images of one another. The situation facing Bermuda — as in, how to deal with expatriates who have been living there for many years or even decades — is nearer to what Cayman dealt with at the turn of the millennium, concluding with the UDP’s still-controversial Cabinet status grants of 2003, than to our current issues with the hundreds of Permanent Residence applicants who remain in limbo due to the Progressives’ lack of action.
The rhetoric of race and racism, specifically the construct of “black versus white,” plays an outsize and overt role in Bermuda politics, compared to Cayman, where, thank goodness, such toxic formulations tend to be filtered, diluted and diffused among our society’s variegated shades of brown.
(Consider, for example, the following statement from a news story in the Bermuda Royal Gazette attributed to one of their local lawmakers: “They say that we are too old, that we are too black, but we are old and black enough to remember what these type of racialised immigration policies did to our parents and to us. None of us should be surprised by the efforts of the [ruling government party] to perpetuate white privilege and dominance of this country at the expense of everyone else.”)
However, it seems that many of Bermuda’s leaders are exercising admirable clarity of thought. Next to the print edition of this column, we republished an editorial from The Gazette that outlines Bermuda’s situation, pierces the fog of misinformation and strikes the core principle: Economic growth cannot occur without population growth, which cannot occur without immigration reform.
That is as true for Cayman as it is for Bermuda. The Gazette offers us a lesson; the overall scenario in Bermuda offers a warning.
The introduction of Cayman’s “rollover” policy — modeled after Bermuda’s — was one of the most divisive developments in the history of Cayman, cleaving our formerly unified society into two distinct groups: “Caymanians” and “expatriates” … which evolved, almost instantly, into “us” and “them.”
The impact of that painful rift reverberates to this day, as successive governments fool with work permit fees, tinker with residency requirements and fiddle with “point systems,” while companies lose their best and most-tenured employees, productive members of the community are forced to play dice with their families’ futures, and uncertainty wreaks havoc in the private sector.
A major problem of doing business in Cayman is the difficulty of hiring competent people to provide a quality product. If a company cannot find suitably qualified Caymanians for particular roles, work permits are the last — but only — resort.
The so-called “Cayman miracle” was built by the private sector and enabled by a public sector that had the foresight to facilitate those entrepreneurs and get out of their way (not necessarily in that order).
Starting with our immigration laws and pervading through our regulations, Cayman’s governmental leaders ought to be universally pro-business in their policies and pronouncements. One cannot (or certainly should not) scream about unemployment and then vilify employers.
For the future of our people, we must let the world know Cayman is “open for business” — and beyond that, Cayman is synonymous with business.
For Cayman, Bermuda and other small insular countries, immigration policy is economic policy.