Gov’t remains mum on HIV work permit policy

Customs and Border Control’s policy on how work-permit applications are decided for HIV-positive people remains a mystery despite senior government officials vowing two years ago to clarify the reasoning behind their decisions.

“I’ve been trying to get a clear answer from so many people, and nothing, it’s just been one big run-around with no answers,” said Cayman AIDS Foundation CEO Noel Cayasso-Smith.

In emails dating back to 2016, which were viewed by the Cayman Compass, Cayasso-Smith asked for the details of the policy from former and current chief officers in different government ministries along with senior officers within the then-Immigration Department.

Noel Cayasso-Smith, Cayman AIDS Foundation CEO

But after years of no answers, Cayasso-Smith said he fears his calls to make the policy public have fallen on deaf ears. He is worried that a potentially biased system has been created, which is preventing some with HIV from being able to enter and work in the country.

“We receive multiple emails and messages from people saying they have accepted job offers in Cayman but they don’t want to quit their job and pack up to relocate to Cayman and not be able to get a work permit because of their HIV status,” he said.

In an article published May 2019, officials from the Ministry of Health told the Cayman Compass that the ministry does not recommend “people with HIV be denied work permits, but that the decision is ultimately made by the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) Department, which does not have a written policy on the matter.”

On Monday 11 Jan., Cayman Compass attended WORC and was told there is a draft policy document which would be provided to the media. After several email exchanges, however,  no such document was produced.

“I understand that WORC needs to protect the community by screening who comes to live and work here, and there will be worries about HIV-positive couples coming here and spreading it to others,” said Cayasso-Smith. “However, there is no way to police or regulate every HIV-positive person from coming here.

“What about the people who come on short-term work permits that don’t require a medical [examination]?

“What about when the borders are open, and people come for two weeks on vacation or even just stop by on a cruise ship, how do you police that?”

According to The Lancet medical journal, a 2019 study showed that for nearly 1,000 gay male couples who used antiretroviral therapy medication did not transmit the virus to their partner, even during unprotected sex. The study showed similar results on heterosexual couples.

Pointing to this development in medical research, Cayasso-Smith said he is calling for a system be implemented that allows HIV-positive people to be granted work permits if they meet the right requirements.

“If we can get a physician to say, that ‘person X’ has been taking their medication, and their below detection, and we are then able to prove that they have the financial means to pay for their medication once they get here; then they should be granted the work permit providing that they meet the other requirements of WORC,” he said.

He told Cayman Compass he believes such a system, or a version close to it, may already be the basis for the CBC’s unwritten policy on permit applications.

“If we are going to give it to one [applicant], then we should be able to say why, and give it to the rest,” said Cayasso-Smith, adding that he believes permits have been approved for some people with HIV and denied for others.

The most recent HIV/AIDS statistics in Cayman shows that in 2019 there were 73 people living with HIV, 23 of those persons have been diagnosed with AIDS.

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