There were 25,870 work permits and government contracts for non-Caymanian workers active in the Cayman Islands as of Tuesday, according to records from the Immigration Department.
Those figures represent the highest numbers reported by the department since fall 2008, when there were nearly 26,700 permits for foreign workers held here, just before the world financial markets’ collapse hit Cayman’s economy. “With gross domestic product growth in 2017 at a respectable 2.4 percent … and an economy that has seen falling rates of Caymanian unemployment, 6.2 percent at the last survey, and low inflation, this is indeed an economy worth celebrating,” Premier Alden McLaughlin told a packed hall at the Cayman Economic Outlook event last week. It’s a long way from 2010-2011, when Caymanian unemployment stood near 10.5 percent and work permit numbers had fallen to around 19,000.
Still, Premier McLaughlin believes the overall unemployment rate of 4.2 percent at last check – including Caymanians and non-Caymanians – can be improved upon.
“There are Caymanians who feel left behind,” the premier said. “We must not ignore them. Indeed, neither government nor business can afford to ignore them.”
In its most recent labor force report, the government identified just more than 1,400 Caymanian jobless as of fall 2017. Chief Executive Officer of CML Offshore Recruitment Steve McIntosh believes the premier’s push for full Caymanian unemployment is achievable in the current business climate.
“He wants every Caymanian who is willing and able to work to find a job,” Mr. McIntosh said during a recent interview. “That’s legitimate and it’s achievable, but I’m not sure the government always approaches it from the right direction.”
Mr. McIntosh said the task of placing 1,400 or so unemployed Caymanians using 8-10 staff members at the National Workforce Development Agency is a daunting one for government. By comparison, recruitment firms such as CML have more staff trying to place fewer workers in specific industries.
“They have a way tougher job,” he said of government’s task. “The NWDA has to find a job for all candidates in order to succeed in its mission. Think about the amount of time you’d have to spend with one unemployed person to get them into full-time work. That’s many, many hours. They are just overwhelmed. In my view, they should probably have at least four or five times as many staff.”
“But there’s no reason why [full Caymanian employment] can’t happen as long as their salary expectation is in line with their skills and qualifications,” Mr. McIntosh said.
The work permit statistics produced following a Cayman Compass open records request show a number of interesting trends. Aside from growth in the private sector, the number of workers on contract with government has increased since 2017. Records show more than 1,100 people now hold fixed-term contracts with government. They are either non-Caymanians or Caymanians who are over the retirement age.
Overall, Cayman is now home to at least 1,000 work permit holders belonging to each of seven different nationalities: Jamaican, Filipino, British, Canadian, American, Indian and Honduran. Based on immigration records released since 2007, it is the first time that has ever been reported by the Immigration Department.
Jamaicans still make up the largest group of work permit holders at nearly 42 percent. They are followed by Filipinos at nearly 14 percent, British [from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland] at 7.6 percent and Canadians at 4.8 percent. Canadians just edged out Americans as the fourth most populous nationality here on work permits in the most recent tally by the Immigration Department.
The 25,870 permit holders include individuals working with permission of the chief immigration officer as they await determination on permanent residence applications or work permit appeals. They also include temporary work permit holders [those here on three- or six-month permits] and employees permitted to work within the special economic zone.