Number of work permits exceeds 30,000

It may be one explanation for the escalating traffic problems and for higher rents. Cayman’s work permit population has increased by more than 3,000 in the past 10 months.

Data released by Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman in November showed a record-high 30,298 work permit holders compared with 27,263 in February of this year.

The 11.1% increase in foreign workers was driven by the most represented countries of Jamaica, the Philippines, the UK, and India. Out of the 10 most prevalent foreign nationals on work permits, only the number of Americans declined marginally, most likely due to a buoyant labour market in the US.

The number of Nicaraguans on work permits increased by 25.9% to 550, followed by Filipinos by 15.9% to 4,578 and South Africans by 13.5% to 437. There are now 12,788 Jamaicans on work permits, an increase of 10.3%, as that country continues to supply the largest number of expatriates by nationality. The number of Indian nationals, who are a relatively recent addition as a large expat worker group, increased their work permit numbers by 11% to 1,461.

Demand for foreign labour in Cayman has been boosted by a strongly performing economy at a time of very low unemployment. The Spring Labour Survey 2019, released on Thursday, showed an overall unemployment rate of 3% and a Cayman unemployment rate of 4.8%.

These estimates from March and April are slightly higher than the previous analysis carried out in the fall of 2018, which represented a record low unemployment among Caymanians on par with early 2007, Finance Minister Roy McTaggart said in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

However, the absolute number of unemployed has declined from 1,464 to 1,407, while the labour force grew by 7.7% within 12 months, largely due to the significant increase in non-Caymanian workers.

Steve McIntosh, head of recruitment firm CML, says the overall rise in work permits is not surprising. “We have seen a significant increase in employment market activity this year, which shows no sign of slowing down. Nearly all sectors of the economy seem to be thriving.”

Construction was almost certainly the main driver, as the boom in development showed no sign of abating, he said.

The financial services employment market has also been extremely active this year. But this is not necessarily a barometer of growth, McIntosh said. “If a new company opens in Cayman and needs an HR manager for example, this can create a knock-on effect through the market. One new job can thus create a dozen vacancies.”

Last year’s passing of the new economic substance legislation, designed to create more economic activity among offshore companies on island, has not had a significant impact yet, he added.

“What difference we have seen has been an indirect one among service providers rather than entities directly affected by it.”