A work permit processing system at the Cayman Islands Immigration Department that includes about 5,000 different job categories must be clarified, according to civil service managers who confirmed last week that even immigration employees are baffled by it.
Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush told lawmakers during Public Accounts Committee hearings last week that a revised system for classification of jobs held by non-Caymanian workers should be completed within the next six months.
“It needs to be simplified and we’re working towards that,” Mr. Bush said.
All non-Caymanian private sector workers in the Cayman Islands must hold a legal permit to work. Fees are paid by the companies that employ those workers each time a permit is awarded or renewed.
There can often be a vast disparity between what is charged for non-Caymanian workers, even for those performing the same basic types of jobs. For instance, in the legal profession, the annual permit cost for a bookkeeper is $4,600, but the same permit fee for a “clerk, bookkeeping/accounts” is $1,050. In the publishing industry, a graphic designer’s annual permit costs $6,000, while a graphic artist’s permit is $4,743.75.
In the hairdressing, beauty treatment and personal service activities industry, a non-Caymanian administrative assistant costs $1,575 to employ, but in the legal profession that administrative assistant’s annual permit fee is $2,100. In the programming and broadcasting industry, a work permit for a sales representative/agent costs $2,100 per year, while in the landscaping and gardening business, a sales representative permit costs $1,050 per year.
Difficulties with the current jobs classification system, which replaced the old “skill-based” permit evaluation method, are found on both sides of the immigration fence. Mr. Bush said local employers often complain of being overcharged for certain jobs, simply because a worker’s title has changed from the last employment period. It’s not unusual for weeks to be spent in a “back and forth” between the Immigration Department and a private sector employer over the actual cost of a permit, he said.
“The system that we have that’s based just on job title alone is very problematic for the department, it is problematic for the customers,” Mr. Bush said.
Public Accounts Committee member Winston Connolly said it was in a company’s best interest to browse through the hundreds of jobs in an industry category to ensure that “less money is spent on that work permit.”
Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller alleged that companies would often attempt to employ non-Caymanian workers in lesser job titles in attempts to cut their fees, hiring carpenters as “carpenter’s assistants” or stone masons as “mason’s helpers.”
Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Wesley Howell said immigration conducts about 40-50 assessments a month of local companies, and if some finagling with the job titles is occurring, those firms are fined.
“In the … six months up to January, there were 211 administrative fines levied by the Immigration Department. Most of those have to do with [an employee] not working within the correct job title,” Mr. Howell said.
Mr. Bush said some legislative change would be required to alter the job lists maintained by the department. Moreover, he said immigration would have to move further away from its current “paper-based” and “interaction-driven” permit system.
“We hope to make this more automated, more Web-based once the methodology of fees is agreed … and either they pay for [the permit], or they don’t,” he said.