Since the first settlers arrived upon these shores, the people of the Cayman Islands have charted our own course. Our history and culture have been influenced and inflected by the trickles and waves of immigrants who, from the earliest days, have contributed to and been enriched by our community and way of life.
Perhaps that notion, or something like it, is what Governor Martyn Roper was thinking of when he shared a recent Compass infographic showing the numbers and nationalities of Cayman’s international workforce.
“Fascinating graphic showing different nationalities of our 27K work permit holders,” he wrote in an accompanying note on Facebook. “Along with strong Caymanian culture, tradition and heritage, this diversity is an important contributor to our Islands’ success.”
His observations, clearly intended to be positive and unifying, should not have been controversial. Even the wording – ‘along with’ … ‘important contributor’ – stayed well clear of the empty, if all too familiar, ‘Caymanians vs. foreigners’ debate. That did not prevent some from seizing the opportunity to fan the flames of divisiveness.
To his credit, the governor offered to meet with people concerned that generational Caymanians are being shut out from our islands’ growing prosperity. There is no question, our islands’ growth has come with challenges, including affordability, particularly in housing, and maximising opportunities for Caymanian youth.
This editorial board staunchly defends the freedom of individual citizens to pursue their enlightened and legitimate self-interest within a competitive economy and enjoy the fruits of their labour. We all want and deserve to live in a territory that offers equal opportunities. A climate in which individual initiative is rewarded, excellence is pursued and access to opportunity free of discrimination is guaranteed.
But the assertion that there are, as one person commented to the governor on Facebook, “far more Caymanian people suffering than succeeding” disregards important statistics that suggest it is overall growth, not ‘job-stealing foreign workers’ that led to the record-breaking 27,263 work permits and government contracts held by non-Caymanians at the end of last year.
Even as work permit numbers have climbed, the unemployment rate among Caymanians has shrunk to less than 5% – its lowest rate in over a decade. As Steve McIntosh, CEO of CML recruitment, told the Compass: “Recent history has proven the paradigm that unemployment and work permits are negatively correlated. As work permits have increased to record levels, so unemployment has sunk to historic lows, both driven by economic growth. Our recent experience ought to have settled that debate, if there ever was one.”
As Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference last year, “Cayman is easily the most cosmopolitan country in the region.” Our diversity is part and parcel of our identity. Because of Cayman’s complex and unique history, there are few hard lines between ‘foreign’ and ‘local’ populations – rather a continuum as new residents have assimilated into the established population, which itself adapts to the new influences.
Our current challenges will not be met by pointing fingers. ‘Us vs. them’ might be a fine approach to sporting events, but it’s no way to run a country. The fact is that any jurisdiction, Cayman included, relies on a diverse, engaged and productive population in order to survive.