Cayman’s population has decreased by almost 3,500 since the borders officially closed because of COVID-19.
Between 23 March, when the airport closed, and 2 Aug., 4,521 people left the country on emergency evacuation flights. Over the same period, however, 1,037 people returned to Cayman, according to data provided to the Cayman Compass by the Ministry of Employment and Border Control. That’s a net loss of 3,484 people.
That figure does not include last Friday’s flight which transported around 60 Nicaraguans back to their home country.
The Compass previously reported that 12,500 people left the island in the last week of regularly scheduled flights before the border closure. The vast majority of those are believed to be tourists returning to their home countries, though there were also some residents who decided to pack up and leave as the economic reality of the pandemic started to become clear.
All those who have left since 23 March are people whose jobs and lives were impacted by COVID-19.
Steve McIntosh, of CML Recruitment and a member of the Chamber of Commerce leadership team, said the departure numbers were not surprising and would likely continue to increase.
“I would expect to see more people leave. Many foreign workers are still essentially stranded here due to the difficulties of travelling.”
He believes others may have decided to stay in Cayman a little longer to see if their jobs come back.
McIntosh said it was difficult to track the total number of layoffs because no data is recorded on Caymanians who are made redundant and employers – especially those that have gone out of business – often don’t cancel work permits.
He said the consequences for the economy of losing 3,500 people were not good.
Even if the average spending per person was as little as $1,000 per month, the islands’ businesses are losing $3.5 million per month in direct spending as a result of the exodus.
However, there is some upside. He said the evacuation flights had allowed the islands to shed jobs in a time of crisis without suffering the consequences that typically flow from that.
“While it’s tragic that so many people have lost their livelihoods, this kind of structural flexibility is a major source of resilience for the Cayman economy,” he added.
“If any other economy had lost 10% of its jobs it would have seen a corresponding 10% increase in unemployment rate, with the corresponding impact on welfare spending and salaries going down.”
Woody Foster, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the ‘air bridge’ flights had been useful in helping people get home and reducing the number of mouths to feed on island.
While the long-term consequences of reducing the number of consumers on the island could impact businesses, he said the majority of those that had left were people who had lost income.
“I think the bigger concern would be the pressure on the economy of a large amount of people without jobs who are stuck here. On balance, it is better that they go home. The government has done a good job of working with other countries and getting the air bridges in place to allow people to leave.”
He expects more will have to leave before the crisis is over, but is hopeful that the borders can be safely reopened in a measured way that will allow businesses to survive and continue to employ people in the medium term.