Cayman booming, but immigration issues unresolved, premier says

Chamber urges action on work permits, permanent residence

Premier Alden McLaughlin addresses a group of several hundred businesspeople at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman early Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Brent Fuller

The Cayman Islands is “in a much better position” than the territory was four years ago, Premier Alden McLaughlin told a group of several hundred local businesspeople, with the development and tourism industry surging, unemployment down and a strong partnership between government and the private sector.

However, immigration – the issue identified as one of the local Chamber of Commerce’s major concerns – went largely unaddressed by the premier during a 45-minute speech at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman early Wednesday afternoon.

During a brief speech before the premier’s address, Chamber President Paul Pearson identified immigration, labor and the cost of doing business as the main concerns identified by Chamber members as disadvantaging local businesses and their ability to obtain “qualified labor.”

Mr. Pearson noted that some firms are now outsourcing jobs to other jurisdictions because of immigration-related difficulties and the cost of hiring new workers generally. He also said that the ongoing delay in government hearing and approving permanent residence applications is affecting senior and middle-management decisions at local firms.

In some cases, approval time for work permits, which are required for any non-Caymanian workers for legal employment in Cayman, has gone from six weeks to six months, Mr. Pearson said. “This can be a disincentive to businesses to create new jobs,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin said in some ways Cayman has become a victim of its own economic success with regard to processing immigration applications. He said the number of work permit applications is at “an all time high,” along with 1,200 planning applications being filed since May 2015. In both areas, the “sheer number” of applications has slowed matters somewhat.

“But this is a good indicator of the confidence in Cayman that businesses have since this government took office,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“There are those who, based on their rhetoric, appear not to understand that the country will not prosper if business does not do well. And business cannot prosper if the country does not prosper.”

With regard to the grants of permanent residence for longtime non-Caymanian workers, the premier indicated that this matter continues to be a “vexing” issue for all involved. Close to 900 people are awaiting word on permanent residence applications filed since late 2013, but an August 2015 court judgment threw into question a number of areas concerning how application approvals are being handled by government.

The government has obtained a consultant’s report to assess the 2015 Grand Court judgment, but has not stated what it would do with the report’s suggestions or what course it might take in changing Immigration Law in response to the concerns raised by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie.

“There is no sinister reason for the advice remaining confidential at this stage,” Mr. McLaughlin said, adding that “relentless” attempts by the Cayman Compass to obtain the advice through an open records request had made it more difficult for him to even discuss the matter publicly “as it may be claimed that we have waived the legal professional privilege that we have asserted with respect to this advice.”

“All I can do is crave the patience of those awaiting their applications to be processed,” the premier said. “The government takes this matter most seriously.”

Financial services

The premier also pledged that the current Progressives-led administration would seek to approve a revised version of the Legal Practitioners Bill, which sets out a modern regulatory framework for lawyers in the territory.

The legislation is seen as a key piece to advance Cayman’s financial services industry, but an attempt to pass it through the current meeting of the Legislative Assembly failed due to political pressure.

“Although we have deferred the bill to the next meeting of the House in January in order to give interested parties more time to consider the bill and make representations to government, I want to assure all concerned that this government is determined to pass a modern, effective law to bring the regulation of legal practice in the Cayman Islands into the 21st century,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The premier also pointed out that Cayman has largely settled difficulties over the reporting of beneficial ownership information for local companies and trusts in recent months, and that local company registrations have done “quite well,” partially due to a new Limited Liability Company Law the territory enacted this year.

Local unemployment has dropped steadily over the past several years, the premier said, from a high of 10.5 percent in 2012 to about 5.7 percent this spring.

“We cannot be satisfied until every Caymanian willing and able to work has an opportunity to do so,” the premier said. “Being Caymanian is not an automatic qualification for a job. But certainly every Caymanian who is willing and able to do a job must have the opportunity to get employment.”


Mr. McLaughlin referenced local politics significantly more in Wednesday’s speech than in past addresses to the Chamber audience, noting that this was the last chance he would have to address the local business organization as a whole before the May 2017 general election.

He offered some advice to local business leaders: “Elections have consequences.”

“There are those that walk and talk about the need to elect independent candidates, crowing that the party system has failed the country,” he said. “I am not sure what party they are referring to, but in terms of this government and the outcomes that we have obtained, I think it is true to say that the party system can work.

“There are those who, based on their rhetoric, appear not to understand that the country will not prosper if business does not do well. And business cannot prosper if the country does not prosper.”

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  1. Cayman is booming? The hon premier might want to discuss that with the owners of the Riviera Hotel and several other properties that are currently either closed down or facing closure. It’s also a complete fallacy that high numbers of planning applications equal a healthy economy. The simple fact of life is that a plot of land with planning permission has a higher market value than one without so the applications don’t actually signify intent to develop the property. In fact the way the planning laws are administered the owners can (as many do) just leave the plot derelict and up for sale.

    One definition of booming is to make a hollow rumbling sound (there are others I can’t post here) and that seems to sum up this speech nicely.

  2. The Premier sure doesn’t forget his and party self- praise , but insist not to take the Judge decision and the report on the Judge finding on a very important issue “Immigration ” and put it all on the shelf and forget about it .
    Then he said we / he / party cannot be satisfied until all willing and able Caymanians to work has the opportunity to do so , then being Caymanians doesn’t qualify you for a job . Then he says that every willing and able Caymanian to do the job “MUST ” have the opportunity .

    What have he / party done or is doing to back up the above promises of words ? Creating employment and selling work permits , doesn’t help those willing and able qualified Caymanians get a chance or job or opportunity .

  3. The Premier is correct that every Caymanian who is willing and able to work should be able to find employment.

    Improved education is the key to job opportunity. I am going to suggest something radical:

    At school I was taught how to solve quadratic equations, to conjugate Latin verbs, the names of past kings and queens and so on.

    But here’s the truth. Since leaving school I have never used any of that knowledge in my career. And I did OK.

    In my opinion the most critical things that are essential to learn are reading, writing and simple arithmetic. Such as percentages, multiplication and so on. Using a computer, word processing and spreadsheets are important today too.

    What would happen if less school time was devoted to learning stuff most people will never need to use and more to learning the essentials?