Harrison Bothwell closed his George Town jerk stand Friday, about two weeks after he first opened it, after work permits for his two cooks expired during an immigration process he described as “a nightmare.”
“Had I known what I was going to be faced with, I would never have undertaken this,” Mr. Bothwell said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Mr. Bothwell, a retired airline pilot who still leads some training courses for Cayman Airways, decided to embark on a post-retirement business venture a few years ago. That venture, the ‘What a Jerk’ jerk stand on Eastern Avenue, opened on Jan. 7 after a significant delay in receiving building occupancy documents. “I guess that’s another story,” he said.
Mr. Bothwell said he received a three-month temporary work permit for one of his cooks through August 2016. The second cook he hired was granted a similar permit to last through September 2016.
It took a bit longer to open the jerk stand than he had first estimated, so Mr. Bothwell said his cook went back to immigration in August, attempting to receive a second three-month permit. According to immigration officials, that was not allowed, and Mr. Bothwell said he was asked to pay for a six-month work permit instead. Cayman Islands Immigration Law requires all non-Caymanian workers to receive a permit before taking up employment in the jurisdiction.
Mr. Bothwell said he received a six-month temporary permit for both cooks, spending a total of $2,240 ($1,120 for each half year permit), which he thought would continue the permits until March and April 2017, respectively.
However, one of the cooks was informed, when he returned to the Immigration Department in December, that his six-month permit had expired as of Dec. 14, 2016 not March 2017.
Mr. Bothwell said his employee tried to argue that the six-month permit should have extended until March 2017. “They said, ‘well, that’s not how it works anymore,’” he said.
Apparently, the six-months for the temporary permit began, in the estimation of immigration officials, at the time the first three-month permit was issued and the six-month extensions – given in August and September – were good only for another three months after that.
Mr. Bothwell said he had already paid $370 for each three-month permit and was being charged again, $2,240, for an additional three months.
“I’m being double-charged for the same permit,” he said Friday.
Mr. Bothwell provided details of email communications sent as late as last week with Immigration Department and Ministry of Home Affairs officials in which his situation was discussed.
According to one email message sent on Jan. 18, Ministry Acting Chief Officer Kathryn Dinspel-Powell wrote: “Mr. Bothwell reports having attempted unsuccessfully to get clarification on this matter … and in the absence of the same, he sent [one of his cooks] home on Monday Jan. 16, 2017, having in the interim attained for him what he was told was a final extension when he attended the [immigration] front counter with [the cook] back in December 2016.
“So, he is without one cook and finds himself in a similar position with [the second cook], whose stamp expires at midnight tomorrow night (19/01/17).
“I am respectfully requesting that the issues surrounding both of these matters be looked into as a matter of urgency, and that in particular, you make personal contact with Mr. Bothwell at [phone number] to discuss what options are available to him under the Law, to enable him to keep [the second cook] on staff beyond midnight tomorrow night, so as to avoid disruption to the business continuity of his operation.”
A reply to the email, from Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Garfield Wong, indicated Mr. Bothwell would receive assistance that day in resolving the issue.
However, Mr. Bothwell said he was told by immigration officials that he would need to pay an additional $370 for each worker, and a $200 fee to speed up the processing of those applications, to obtain another permit extension.
Mr. Bothwell said Friday that he refused to do this and simply closed down the business. One jerk stand cook had already gone home. The other remains in Cayman for now on a visitor’s permit.
Mr. Bothwell said he would reopen the business if he could procure legal permits for his employees. He said he was in talks with the Immigration Department on the matter and hoped the business closure would only be temporary.
“I’ve paid for six [months], and I’m getting three,” he said. “I’m totally discouraged.”
Ms. Dinspel-Powell, Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith and Mr. Wong were contacted for additional comment on this story Tuesday morning. No responses had been received by press time.