The number of Indian nationals holding work permits in the Cayman Islands has increased by 26 percent in just the past two years, according to Immigration Department data reviewed by the Cayman Compass.
The number of Filipino nationals holding work permits here also increased substantially – by about 17 percent – during the same period.
Meanwhile, the number of expatriate workers from North America and the U.K. steadily decreased between July 2016 and this month, with American expats leading the way – their work permit numbers fell by 16 percent.
During 2018, the number of Indian work permit holders surpassed the number of Americans permitted to work in the islands for the first time, according to records reviewed by the Compass.
There may be some anecdotal local evidence for why the demographics of Cayman’s expatriate population has shifted away from North Americans, in particular, and more toward workers from the Asian continent. The establishment of Health City Cayman Islands in 2014, for example – often referred to locally as “the Shetty hospital” because of its founder, Dr. Devi Shetty of India – has brought a significant number of south Asian workers to Cayman.
The number of Filipino workers has also seen a steady increase in Cayman since the early 2000s, their work permit numbers overtaking every other foreign nationality here apart from Jamaicans, Cayman’s next-door Caribbean neighbor.
However, the increase of Asian expatriate workers since the turn of the century is a global trend and has been noted by business management firms, like U.K.-based Employment Conditions Abroad Ltd., which surveyed the topic in 2016.
“We found that sending employees to work overseas was more popular than ever before,” the ECA study noted, “but that there had also been some significant changes to the demographics.
“Asia was just as likely to be a source of expatriates as Western Europe and North America.”
The ECA survey looked at what was considered to the be “typical” expatriate employee during the end of the 20th century compared to what an expat worker looked like in 2016. One thing had not changed in almost 20 years: the vast majority of expatriate workers were men between ages 35 and 50.
However, those men circa 1999 were usually North American or European workers accompanied to the foreign jurisdictions by their families. By 2016, the split was just about even, with expat workers just as likely to come from Asian as from “western” countries. The 2016 version of the expat was also far less likely to be traveling with family in tow and also less likely to be given a longer-term contract.
“There had been a major shift away from one-off, three year assignments to shorter term and commuter assignments with fewer being accompanied by families,” the ECA survey findings noted. “We saw companies increasingly utilize international assignments as career and talent development programs.”
Despite the significant increase in Filipino and Indian workers over the past two years in Cayman, the islands have not seen large numbers of workers from other Asian countries that have flocked to jobs in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Chinese nationals held 39 work permits here in July 2018, Japanese workers seven permits and South Koreans just two.
Smaller Asian countries like Nepal (295 permits) and Sri Lanka (124) have far more expatriate workers in Cayman.
Also, the decrease in Americans, Canadians and British work permit holders might not mean those individuals are no longer on the islands. Some of those residents may have remained in Cayman long enough to obtain permanent residence or even Caymanian status, which means they would no longer be included on the work permit lists maintained by the Immigration Department.
As of July 2018, the Immigration Department listed 25,620 work permits active in the Cayman Islands, including non-Caymanian workers here on government contracts. However, those figures do not include permanent resident non-Caymanians or non-Caymanian spouses of Caymanians.