My Cayman 2.0: Cayman could be a virtual college town

Caymanian Rickeem Lashley, in his final year of a marine biology degree in Wales. Student everywhere are studying online as classrooms go virtual.

You have heard about digital nomads moving to Cayman to work remotely in the COVID era; how about student nomads? In a guest column, Nick Joseph, an attorney with HSM Chambers, argues that the new visa regulations create the opportunity for Cayman to become a ‘college town’.

HSM Chambers partner Nick Joseph

As Cayman confronts the economic challenges arising out of COVID-19, substantial efforts are under way to maintain and generate economic activity – in an attempt to offset at least some of the losses incurred by the loss of tourism.

Provided Cayman chooses to remain in ‘splendid isolation’ and do all we can to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic within our community, the prospects of tourists returning in the high season ahead continue to diminish.

The cruise and hotel sectors, including related retail and services, face the most direct impact.

We can hope that tourists will return in numbers before the end of 2021, but many businesses relying on that revenue cannot hold on for that long. Indeed, a high proportion have already closed or are ‘mothballing’ their services.

All is not, however, lost. Aspects of the economy are thriving and ongoing capital inflows of new investment in high-end properties is substantial.

In a chaotic world, the sparkle of the gem that is Cayman shines brighter than ever.

Elements of the financial services industry continue to grow and more and more professionals, including substantial numbers of their accountants, are in the process of moving here.

They, together with their families, will be buying cars, renting apartments, and eating in restaurants. North Sound boat trips are sure to be on the agenda.

Of course, they will not fill the void created by the absence of tourists, but they will help.

Soon to join them will be significant numbers of property owners, enjoying the beachfront condos and homes through the winter months.

Long-term visitors renting vacation homes by the month can be expected with the newly launched ‘Global Citizen’ remote worker programme, which is sure to attract some digital nomads to our shores.

These opportunities are known and understood, but others lurk in the fine print. One which has only recently revealed itself is the Student Visa regime set out in our Customs and Border Control Law.

Education institutions, including University College of the Cayman Islands, International College of the Cayman Islands, St. Matthews University and the Truman Bodden Law School, have long welcomed foreign students subject to them applying for and holding a student visa.

Subject to suitable background checks including as to character and health, the holders of such visas are entitled to enter and remain in the islands to undertake their studies.

They add to the community and to the economy. Indeed, whole cities around the world base their economies or at least substantial parts of their sustenance on the presence of students.

From Oxford to Chapel Hill, the presence of thousands of young people living and studying in particular areas creates very significant economic opportunity and impact.

As our local educational institutions build their capabilities and reputations, more and more students will come to them and they, and our islands, will benefit. That will take time. For now, sheer happenstance has created a more immediate opportunity.

The tragedy of COVID-19 is causing numerous universities and colleges around the world to move all, or at least a substantial part, of their learning online.

In doing so, their lecture halls now exist in the ether, everywhere and anywhere we want them to be – including in the Cayman Islands. This means that many of the world’s greatest universities now have a virtual presence here.

The drafters of our Customs and Border Control Law did not restrict the holder of a student visa to attendance only at a Cayman Islands academic institution – and as such, the law can be used to provide the means for qualified actual students to physically come to (and remain in) Cayman to attend their virtual classroom.

CBC officers, working closely with the appropriate ministries, quarantine facility and TravelTime (now Travel Cayman) have already worked impressively to facilitate this, with qualified students able to obtain visas to study online from within the Cayman Islands. The process can be accomplished within days, and at a fee of $92.

There are few better places in the world to live and study, in particular during a pandemic.

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