The Cayman Islands has seen a sharp rise in work permits within the past three years, according to figures released to the Cayman Compass by the Immigration Department under the Freedom of Information Law.
This week, immigration officials reported 24,880 active permits issued to non-Caymanian workers in response to an open records request filed by the Compass.
The permits include non-Caymanian workers employed in private sector companies, as well as individuals here on government contracts. Also included are workers awaiting the outcome of permanent residence applications, of which there are more than 1,100, and non-Caymanians at Cayman Enterprise City (about 350), which operates under a separate work permit regime.
The number does not include permanent resident non-Caymanians, or non-Caymanian spouses of Caymanians.
Immigration data reviewed by the Compass in July 2014 showed 20,360 permits active at that time. This week’s figure of 24,880 permits represents a 22 percent increase in the past three years.
The numbers reported by the Immigration Department serve as a snapshot of the work permit situation at any given time. The figures can change weekly, or even daily, as non-Caymanian workers depart or arrive in the islands.
However, trends can be established by examining work permit data over a period of time.
According to Immigration Department statistics provided to the Cayman Compass under the Freedom of Information Law each quarter since January 2010, the territory has seen a steady increase in work permits granted in the past seven years.
Work permits and government contracts hit a low of about 18,500 in fall 2010 during a global economic recession, rising to about 20,360 in July 2014. The numbers increased again in January 2015 to 21,400, and then to 22,232 in July 2015.
As of February 2016, there were 23,097 permits and contracts held by non-Caymanians working in the islands, which was eclipsed by the July 2016 figure, which was stated at 24,077.
A year later, the number of permits rose again by about 5 percent, when comparing 2016 to 2017.
However, the 24,880 permits reported this month are still below the 2007-2008 era. The government reported 26,659 permits and contracts held here as of November 2008.
The Cayman Islands saw a slight uptick in unemployment among the local population based on reports issued earlier this year. However, that increase was against the backdrop of a steadily declining jobless rate since 2010.
According to the government Economics and Statistics Office, the number of unemployed Caymanians grew by 197 people between October 2015 and October 2016. The Caymanian unemployment rate went from 6.2 percent in October 2015 to 7.1 percent in October 2016. More than 1,400 Caymanians were unemployed and looking for work as of last fall, based on estimates from the Economics and Statistics Office.
The potential for an increase in unemployment numbers – which had dropped steadily in the previous five years – was forecast by former Finance Minister Marco Archer as a result of some of the policies his government put forth.
“The age of pension entitlement was increased to age 65 in May 2016 and this could have inspired persons 60 and older to re-enter the labor force,” Mr. Archer said at the time. “A minimum wage was also established in March 2016, which could also have encouraged greater efforts towards getting a job by persons across all age groups.”
Nearly one-fifth of all unemployed Caymanians listed in the report had been working in the construction sector.
The Caymanian unemployment rate stood as high as 10.5 percent as of April 2010, dropping to a low of 5.6 in spring 2016 before rising to 7.1 percent in October 2016. Typically, unemployment rates are higher in the fall months, when Cayman’s tourism-based economy slows.