Permanent residents who have lost jobs in the tourism industry and are seeking employment in other fields are facing months of delays in changing their job titles because of immigration rules.

All PR holders are required to apply for an occupation ‘variance’ to their permanent residency certificate if they take up a position with a job title that differs from that under which they were originally granted permanent residency status.

Several told the Cayman Compass that they had waited months for their job titles to be amended after being offered other jobs. In a number of cases, prospective new employers had given up waiting and offered the job to someone else, or had simply told the job applicants that it would take too long to sort out and did not offer them the job.

Permanent residents, as well as Caymanians and their spouses, who have become unemployed due to the border closures, have been receiving monthly government stipends, which from this month increased from $1,000 to $1,500.

A number of PR holders who spoke to the Compass said they were willing to forego these payments, thereby saving the government thousands of dollars a month, if they were allowed to take up other employment.

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Lawyer Nick Joseph, a partner at HSM, said changing occupation titles in permanent residency variance applications is “consistently taking up to six months”.

“They appeared to be generally taking more than four months, even before COVID,” he said in an email. “This has always been an issue, as work permits can be obtained for people with no connection to the Islands within days. Frequently, employers will have been forced in consequence to provide employment to persons outside the Islands in preference to persons who are already here and have permanent residence, and even Cayman Islands passports. The irony is great.”

He added, “Tight restrictions on the variation of occupations may have made more sense when the points awarded on PR applications were substantially different depending on what the applicant had as their occupation. It formed a material basis for the grant of PR in the first place. However, in recent years, 15 points is awarded for every occupation, and so from a points perspective, occupation is now a distinction without a difference.

“Of course, the fees payable for different occupations remain substantially different, and range from nil to $32,400.”

According to the government’s Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman agency, requests by permanent residents to change job titles require a hearing by the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, which is supposed to meet on a weekly basis.

One applicant, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Compass he gave two months’ notice to his former employer, thinking that would be plenty of time for his one-page application to be processed. “It doesn’t require anything other than filling out the form and providing proof that you have been offered a new position,” he explained.

When his application was not dealt with in that two-month notice period, “I was left completely in limbo,” he said. “I was without a job, without income.”

He found it difficult to get hold of anyone involved in processing the application. “When I did finally get in touch with someone, I was told my application for a change of job title was in the same queue as all the PR backlog applications. It made no difference that I had permanent residence and all I wanted was to just apply to change my job title.”

Eventually, after three months, his case came before the board – and was deferred. This was because he had not attached a copy of the advertisement of the job he had been offered, something that the application form did not state he needed to include. Then he was told his deferred application would go to the back of the queue again. After a day of phone calls and discussions, it was agreed that his application could be heard at the next meeting in two weeks, where it was approved.

He said he does not understand why a physical meeting of the board is required to process a simple application, when no meeting is needed to approve, for example, a temporary work permit for someone who has never stepped foot in Cayman before.

“If I managed to learn my new job via Zoom, surely they can hear an application like this,” he said.

Laura Watler, acting deputy director of business operations at WORC, said in an email to the Compass that such applications are processed and scheduled to the board for consideration on a weekly basis.

“The Board processes in the date order received so as to be fair to all applicants, unless we receive directions to expedite a matter from either Acting Director [Jeremy] Scott or the Chairman [John Meghoo],” Watler said. “In the case of variation applications to change occupations, we realize that these are time sensitive, in that some (not all) applicants have job offers and the employer will only hold the position for a limited time. Accordingly, we do assign this application type for processing in as timely a manner as possible.

“Having said this, we are experiencing a severe backlog of all application types due to the COVID-19 lockdown as we were unable to process applications remotely (unlike work permits) and the Board was not able to convene.”

She said to address the current backlog and improve communication regarding waiting times, “we will be arranging processing clerks to be assigned more of the RVWs [requests for variation of permanent residence certificate] in their daily quotas”.

Watler added that there are currently approximately 35 outstanding applications, the majority of which were received between December 2020 and this week.

“We are acutely aware of the delays for all application types, and as such are addressing it from a resourcing and processing standpoint to ensure that the service is not only adequate but efficient for everyone involved,” she said.

However, HSM’s Joseph says there is no stipulation in the Immigration Law that requires change-of-occupation variances to be dealt with by the board. “There is no restriction on the Board alone hearing and determining these applications,” he said, adding that under section 37 of the law, the variations can be made by either the board or the director of WORC.

He added, “The delays are substantially, in my estimation, a reflection of the enormous workload placed on the authorities. Permanent residence applications themselves are now taking 8-9 months to be considered, with a few taking even longer.”

Another permanent resident, who has not been able to work because of the border closure, said she had applied for a job but was told that because of the delays in approving job-title changes for PR holders, her prospective employer said he would not consider employing her because it was impossible to predict how long it would before she could start work.

“This is so frustrating at this time,” she said. “During this period of border closure, perhaps there could be some sort of dispensation to those with PR and the right to work to allow them to work in any sector or job description.”

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