The Cayman Islands government is taking its first tangible step toward creating a new “human resources” agency that will take over some of the work permit services now provided by the Immigration Department and subsume the duties currently performed by the National Workforce Development Agency.

Earlier this week, the government released advertisements for what is being referred to as a “temporary leadership post” to provide advice and direction for the new National Human Resources Department.

This department has not been formed, but previous proposals for such an entity have been discussed by Premier Alden McLaughlin as a way to create a “one-stop shop” regulator for public and private sector employment in the islands.

The temporary leader for the new department, who will earn between $109,000 and $130,000 per year, is expected to “interim manage” the development and growth of the human resources department, according to Ministry of Human Resources and Immigration Chief Officer Wesley Howell.

“The driving objectives are to ensure that Caymanians are given priority in the workforce, with the ultimate outcome of achieving full employment of Caymanians, while ensuring that businesses in the Cayman Islands have the workforce needed to meet their business goals,” Mr. Howell said. “An effective change leader is critical to lead the creation of the National Human Resources Department, to implement the vision by driving change in customer service, communications, systems, legislation, processes and technology.”

The temporary position could be filled by a current civil service manager “on secondment” from their current government role. That person would not necessarily have to become the full time director, but would be eligible to apply for the full-time position at a later date, Mr. Howell said.

What happens to the remainder of the Immigration Department if its administrative permit processing section is hived off is unclear at this stage. Premier McLaughlin has said that was only one option available for transferring the work permit function to another agency.

At present, the Immigration Department – in addition to its border control and enforcement responsibilities – handles all applications that involve non-Caymanian workers coming to the jurisdiction including work permits, temporary work permits, visitors work visas, and applications for permanent residence, spouses of Caymanians and Caymanian status, among many other types of landing and working permissions in the Cayman Islands.

According to records recently provided to the Cayman Compass, fewer than one-quarter of the current Immigration Department’s staff works in the permit processing area.

Over the past two years, as Cayman’s economy has grown, immigration officials have found themselves overwhelmed with a much larger number of work permit applications, being handled by a reduced staff complement.

The processing of those permits is lately taking between six to 12 weeks on average, according to private sector firms that assist businesses with work permit applications. The Immigration Department’s stated goal is to have a permit “turned around” in 14 days once an application is received.

According to figures given to the Cayman Compass in the fall, a total of 18,847 work permit applications had been submitted to the department between Jan. 1 and July 31. The Immigration Department reported that roughly the same number of permit applications were processed for all of 2016.

Some opposition political members have commented during the period that Caymanian unemployment has stayed the same or even increased slightly during the same period of economic growth. Caymanian unemployment stood at 6.2 percent in the spring of 2017, compared to 7 percent in the fall of 2016 and 6.2 percent in the spring of 2016.

Overall unemployment during the same period has hovered around 4.2 percent.

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