Leading attorney and financial services advocate Anthony Travers took to the stage alongside former Premier McKeeva Bush at a Cayman Democratic Party rally Monday night to call for a more open immigration policy.
Both Mr. Travers and Mr. Bush criticized government’s lack of action in dealing with hundreds of permanent residency applications and said the approach had to change. Mr. Bush hinted at a possible plan, if his party is elected next year, to ditch the controversial rollover policy, though he said the party manifesto had yet to be finalized ahead of election campaign season.
Mr. Travers said the financial services industry is facing stiffer competition on the international stage than ever before and an influx of new foreign experts is needed to ensure the survival of the sector, which he said contributes $300 million annually to the government’s budget.
“The current immigration system is simply ineffective to get us where we need to go. We need to rethink that very carefully,” he said.
Mr. Travers, senior partner of Travers Thorp Alberga and former chairman of Cayman Finance, said Cayman needs the whole spectrum of financial services experts living and working in Cayman to help comply with new international regulations and grow the industry in new areas.
“You simply can’t say to these people who are experts in their field, ‘you can come here for seven or eight years but then we may roll you over. We may not, but maybe we will.’ It doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked.
“We have to fix our immigration system. It is not working for us because government has messed with it too often.”
“The sort of protectionist legislation which we have had here needs to be rethought. It should not be problematic to solve this issue. The financial services providers I am talking about do not need to come here and vote, they do not need Caymanian status.
“They do need to know they can come here, bring families here, buy houses here and have a long-term career here and that their children can be integrated here and can remain here. If you can’t give them that assurance, they simply don’t need to come here, and without them, I can tell you with absolute certainty, the financial services industry we have here, bit by bit by bit, will decline and wither on the vine.”
He said it is wrong to assume that because the financial services industry has always been in Cayman, it necessarily needs to remain here. He said the island needs a new influx of experts, from merchant bankers to reinsurance experts, insisting much-needed new business could not be enticed to Cayman with the current immigration policy.
And he claimed the rollover is to blame for the loss of 1,000 jobs, half of them Caymanian, in the fund administration industry, which he said has decamped to Canada. In that instance, he said, an effort to protect local jobs has actually caused more unemployment.
“Paradoxically, as work permits increase in the island, Caymanian unemployment goes down – this is an irrefutable fact,” Mr. Travers added.
“We have to have a system by which we can introduce foreign experts and give them reasonable security of tenure in a way that ensures we can integrate Caymanians into the job opportunities they will create.”
Describing Mr. Bush as a “man of great vision,” Mr. Travers addressed a crowd of around 80 to 100 supporters of the Cayman Democratic Party (formerly known as the United Democratic Party) at the Heritage Square parking lot by the four-way stop in West Bay.
Introducing Mr. Travers to the crowd, the opposition leader, said, “No person has defended Cayman’s financial services industry more intelligently and more effectively than Tony Travers.”
And he endorsed some of his views on immigration, claiming government’s inaction on hundreds of permanent residency applications since taking office could result in a lawsuit.
“We have to fix our immigration system,” Mr. Bush said. “It is not working for us because government has messed with it too often. It is not helping local business nor is it helping foreign business, nor Caymanians, nor expats generally.
“It is a bad, bad policy and when the government is sued and the floodgates of thousands are opened because government places no value in people who bought apartments and homes and those who worked here for 20 years, those who have the wealth to create wealth for us – perhaps when the lawsuit comes, they will realize.”
“We need the people who will bring the wealth – embrace wealth or reap poverty,” he told the crowd.
Asked after the event if he planned to abolish the rollover, if elected, he said his party is still working on the details of its immigration platform.