When the population numbers don’t add up

Much has been said in the press of Cayman’s growing population. The Economics and Statistics Office’s Compendium of Vital Statistics estimates a year-end population of 65,813 in December 2018. Of those, an estimated 29,108 are expatriates and 36,705 Caymanian.

Notwithstanding the statistics, which relate to population, the actual total number of persons physically resident in Cayman may in fact be substantially higher. As reported in the Cayman Compass on 16 May, 2019, using actual numbers provided by the Department of Immigration, there were 27,263 expatriates holding valid work permits or under government contract as at 6 Feb., 2019, some five weeks after the date of the ESO estimate.

That 27,263 does not include any permanent residents or the holders of RERC’s (residency rights) as the spouses of Caymanians, nor the dependents of work permit holders and government-contracted workers.

Information received from the Department of Immigration and reviewed by us indicates that there were, last year, approximately 3,000 approved dependents of work permit holders and government-contracted workers, and about 5,000 other persons resident by virtue of some form or other of a certificate of residence (whether in their own right, as a dependant, or as the spouse of a Caymanian).

If we allow for some expatriates who are institutionalised, whether in prison, seeking asylum, or in hospital, throw in persons with student visas (there were 300 in that category alone last year), Cabinet permissions, snowbirds spending more than six months a year in their beachfront condos, and some overstayers, it appears clear that there are more than 36,000 non-Caymanians “living” in Cayman.

If we add back in the reported 36,705 Caymanians, the number of residents may have already passed 72,000 in the last year. It is perhaps helpful to note that ICTA has reported there being 103,274 local cellphones in 2018. Certainly, some persons have more than one cellphone, but thousands, including young children, have none.

Informal indications, ranging from traffic to the availability of rental properties and the increasing height of Mount Trashmore, are that the population and number of residents has continued to grow this year.

Part of the reason for the disparity in numbers provided by the ESO, and those provided by the Department of Immigration (now Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman), is the methodology used by each. Persons who intend to leave the Cayman Islands within six months are simply not counted by the ESO, but are counted by WORC.

Accordingly, although persons are in fact resident for immigration purposes, they do not necessarily form part of the population for statistical purposes. That is understood to be entirely consistent with international standards. Those standards may not always be relevant to our domestic considerations, in particular given the very large transient workforce and the reality that, at least historically, when work permit holders leave, they tend to be replaced immediately by another work permit holder.

The result is that while statistically we had a population of 65,813 at the end of last year, the number of people living here was greater. We may now already have as many as 75,000 residents using our roads, sewerage systems, garbage facilities and other infrastructure.

If true, we have no need to wait 10 years to find out what 100,000 people physically in Cayman looks and feels like.

This winter, a good cruise ship day, coupled with high hotel and condo occupancy (we had 6,720 rooms available at the end of last year) will, at least momentarily, push the total number of people physically present in the Islands above 100,000.

Even then, the number of residents will of course be less, and the population smaller still. The detail will depend on who is asked, on what day and why, and the statistics.

Nick Joseph is a partner and Alastair David an associate at HSM.