Bermuda and Barbados have moved to offer new temporary residency models to attract remote workers to their shores and stimulate economic activity amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The ‘Work from Bermuda’ certificate and the ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ promote both islands as safe havens, while the rest of the world is moving through various stages of lockdowns and infection spikes.
Both programmes aim to pick up some of the economic slack in the absence of tourism.
“The volatility and craziness going on in the world by default makes Cayman attractive.”
The 12-month temporary residency models should not affect local jobs as qualified applicants are not allowed to work for local companies and will bring their jobs with them. At the same time, the influx of new residents will mean higher spending on rentals, groceries and on-island activities.
Participants in the Cayman Compass live roundtable on the future of work believe the model is something that Cayman could, in principle, easily emulate.
Realtor Michael Joseph said Cayman can provide “a safe harbour in a stormy world”.
“The volatility and craziness going on in the world by default makes Cayman attractive,” he said, in addition to all the other attributes that make people want to relocate to the islands.
Nick Joseph, a partner at HSM Chambers, warned that Cayman should tread carefully to preserve its comparatively highly priced immigration system.
“I think that we need to be careful as a jurisdiction, we need to remember that the cost of entry into Cayman is appropriately high. There are standards that this society can keep and maintain whilst welcoming large numbers of people,” he said.
The HSM partner argued that, at that higher price point, Cayman already has what Barbados or Bermuda is offering. “You won’t be able to come in here as a tourist visitor and run a business internationally without licensing. But what we do have is the mechanism for anybody that wants it, and passes our standards, to readily get licensing within a week of application. We can get temporary work permits even now within two or three weeks of application.”
This permission to work is available on a more steady platform of nine years, Nick Joseph said. It also helps demonstrate a real business presence on island. “I think this is where some greatest opportunity will come in the coming months.”
Steve McIntosh, founder of CML Recruitment, equally believes in the opportunity but sees a disconnect in that “we’ve always had the ability to do this” but “no one knows”. Cayman simply had not done enough to market itself to overseas workers, even under the existing immigration system.
While Cayman Enterprise City has been offering such opportunities in certain industries covered by the special economic zone, the potential to attract people to come and live in Cayman, even if only temporarily, could be much wider.
Despite this, HSM’s Joseph said he is currently “inundated with calls from people who are seeking to come and participate in what is widely considered to be somewhat of a miracle that we have responded as a country as effectively as we have, as quickly as we have, and have the prospect of actually coming through this as a safe sanctuary, whereby people can exist and get on with their lives in splendid isolation”.
There is clearly a market and it is an opportunity for Cayman, Joseph argued.
However, consultant Paul Byles noted that at present it is not possible to come to Cayman and work as an ordinary employee on a $60,000 to $80,000 salary for a company that is based somewhere else. “There’s no such model that exists right now.” And there is no product that Cayman could sell to compete directly with Barbados or Bermuda, the director at FTS Cayman said.
The question is whether Cayman should have a temporary residency certificate for long-term visitors and remote workers, he said.
Nick Joseph agreed that obtaining an exempt company licence and a work permit under that company was cost-prohibitive for anyone earning $60,000 to $80,000. He said he would be open to a more cost-effective facility, provided some of the obligations of living in Cayman, such as healthcare and pension contributions, are taken care of.
He noted that Cayman’s entire framework is set up with the employer being responsible for maintaining those employee benefits. “If we can create employing vehicles in a cost-effective, quick manner that will fit perfectly into our existing regime, we don’t actually have to do very much in order to facilitate it,” he said.
“You could imagine a $5,000 ‘have your own company and work permit’ vehicle. You’re not competing with any local person, you’re renting local real estate, shopping in the grocery stores, you’ve got the health checks, you’ve got health insurance.”
This would start to cover all the objections that could be raised against such a model, the HSM partner said.
For CML’s McIntosh, concerns about opening Cayman’s borders too quickly to new residents can also be overcome because, unlike tourists, new residents can undergo a quarantine.
Economically, he said, a one-year resident is equal to 52 stayover tourists who come to Cayman for a week. This would recover most of the costs lost on the typical licensing. “We don’t need that many to do it, but we need to make it easy,” McIntosh said.