Workers waiting weeks for English language testing

Workers from non-English speaking countries are facing a delay of up to several weeks in some cases before they can take a required English language test to obtain a Cayman Islands work permit.

The tests are required as a condition of a work permit for any prospective worker who does not speak English as their first language.

At present, Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith said there are two immigration staffers that oversee the process and the department is seeking to allocate additional resources for the testing.

“We appreciate the implication for employers and, for this reason, we are actively working to increase resources and reduce delays,” Mr. Smith said Friday in a statement sent to the Cayman Compass.

The Immigration Department administers between 48 and 64 English language tests each week, but demand is increasing as Cayman’s economy has grown.

“We have seen an increase in the overall number of work permits, along with an increase in compliance checks for persons renewing work permits,” Mr. Smith said.

Overall processing time for work permits has been averaging between six to 12 weeks, 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.

In addition, Cayman has generally increased the number of workers here from countries where English is not the first language spoken.

Eighty percent of Cayman Islands work permit holders come from just seven countries, four of which are majority English-speaking jurisdictions including the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Jamaica.

The other three countries represented are not primarily English-speaking, and workers coming from two of the nations, the Philippines and India, have been growing steadily in recent years.

Workers from the Philippines now make up approximately 13 percent of all work permits held in the Cayman Islands, second only to the territory’s next-door neighbor, Jamaica. Indians now hold more than 1,050 work permits in Cayman and have overtaken Hondurans as the sixth most populous nationality for permit holders.

Workers from non-English-language-first countries do not need to wait until they arrive in Cayman to be tested, Mr. Smith said, if their employers wish to speed up the process.

“The department will accept English language test scores from overseas test centers, namely, International English Language Testing Systems and Test of English for English International Communication,” he said.

For the moment, the Immigration Department has put in place temporary measures that allow businesses to function normally during the holiday season and into the new year, Mr. Smith said. People waiting to take the English language test may work as long as they are able to take the test within 30 days of their work permit approval or their arrival on island, according to immigration officials.