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There has been much talk recently about improving Cayman’s immigration policies to provide a speedier, more efficient and user-friendly service so that Cayman can retain its competitive edge, particular in this harsh economic climate. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull speaks exclusively with Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans and Director of Boards and Work Permits Sherryl A. Miller to find out how far Cayman’s own system really needs to go to achieve its goals and reports.
 
Anyone in the business community will tell you businesses that possess the highest quality human capital will be the ones that succeed and this principle also applies to jurisdictions as a whole: top quality staff means a competitive edge like no other. When a country is so small it is forced to lean heavily on imported labour, its immigration policies can make or break its economy.
 
Administrative decisions more effective

Speed is of the essence for employers needing staff and the Cayman Islands government’s Immigration Department recognised this as an essential element of its service. The move to processing work permits administratively rather than via the traditional board meetings began in January 2009 and has been a vital part of the Department’s push to upgrade its service to the business community.
 
Sherryl Miller, who is the director of all boards and work permits, says this method is the most efficient means by which a permit can be processed.
 
“Each member of the work permit administration is able to process around 15 applications each day and sometimes up to 20,” she explains.
 
Administrators are able to scrutinise each application using checklists and guidelines. Their decisions also pass through an audit layer of compliance officers to ensure that the Immigration Law, the Immigration Regulations and internal policies and procedures have been applied correctly. They must perform their duties without influence from outside pressures and have detailed guidelines from which they must work. Additionally, administrators are restricted from dealing with contentious applications such as key employee applications and applications for work permits where Caymanians have applied for the post and been denied employment.
 
“The Department is staffed by four administrators who are fully trained in processing work permits effectively, quickly and impartially,” Ms Miller furthers. “They sit in a secure area that has only secure access. They are not permitted to discuss their cases with each other and our two dedicated compliance officers undertake a thorough review of the procedures undertaken in each decision.”
 
Great care is given to ensure that work permit administrators cannot choose which applications they will deal with on any given day.
 
Miller says the administrators are able to vet applications better because they have the time and ability to speak directly with applicants if there is a specific need.
 
“They have the time to make enquiries to ensure that they fully appreciate the need of the business,” she says. “In comparison, the Work Permit Board generally has to sit through between 75 and 100 applications at each sitting (the WP Board meets twice weekly) and is not able therefore to make the same detailed investigations.”
 
The administrative procedure has been recently enhanced by the hiring of two dedicated listing officers who will prepare agendas for the work permit administrators.
 
Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans explains the significance of this move: “We previously shared listing officers between the boards and the administrative team, which often meant most resources had to be dedicated to the boards so they had a steady supply of work. These officers are tasked with assessing work permit applications when they first enter the Department, deciding whether an application is complete and ready to be processed. The two new hirings are currently undertaking training and should be able to fully perform their duties by the end of April [at the time of writing]. Once the administrative team’s new recruits are properly up to speed they will be able to deliver applications to the administrative team quickly so that the administrators will have a steady supply, which they can plough through.”
 
Evans says the Department is still “strapped for staff” and she would like to see a further two new administrators added in the 2010/2011 government budget, to see the system performing at its optimum.
 
“Unfortunately we have a backlog of around 6,000 work permit applications that the boards and the administrators are currently working extremely hard to get through, so this is why applications still take up to five months to process,” she states. “Ideally the time taken from receipt of the application to the applicant receiving their decision should be around
two weeks.”
 
Accredited businesses: Focus on financial services
New February 2010 directives from Cabinet have instructed the Immigration Department to put the Financial Services Industry at the forefront of work permit applications, in response to the economic downturn’s squeeze on this most vital arm of Cayman’s economy.
 
During his tenure as Chief Immigration Officer (now Chief Officer in the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs), Franz Manderson, developed a new system of accreditation for businesses after a long period of consultation with the private sector, which had the aim of rewarding the most community responsible and Caymanian friendly businesses with a specially top tier level of service for immigration purposes. Government’s new push for the Financial Services Industry in particular means this initiative will only focus on this industry initially.
 
Manderson explains further: “The accreditation system is a key component to managing migration. The current system requires both the boards and administrators to spend far too much time trying to decide if a particular employer is genuine and if they are a good corporate system. Once the accreditation system is in place the Department will be able to appropriately reward those employers who do everything right, while restricting the grant of work permit to unscrupulous employers.”
 
The mechanics of this new initiative are in the planning stage, but the Immigration Department anticipates it will be rolling the initiative out to businesses by May. The assessment of applications will be under the auspices of a new sub-committee of the Business Staffing Plan Board.
 
Evans explains: “The accreditation system is geared to rewarding good corporate citizens, i.e. those which demonstrate a high standard of business ethics, employment practices, talent development programmes and community programmes. Companies can obtain credit points in a number of such areas after meeting the criteria and those with the highest points would be rewarded with dedicated account officers who will be totally familiar with their immigration needs and therefore provide them with a top tier level of service. We do not currently have these staff members as our budget does not stretch that far.”
 
Although the accreditation system will initially only be rolled out to businesses within the Financial Services Industry, it is anticipated that it will also eventually become available to the other important pillars of Cayman’s economy, namely tourism, construction and industry.
 
Key features of the accreditation system
One reward for companies volunteering to be part of the accreditation system will be the presumption for top tier companies that certain categories of their key employee requests will be given, save for extenuating circumstances. See the sidebar for a list of those occupations that give the post-holder the presumption of the grant of key employee and therefore permit them to remain past their term limit and thereby apply for Permanent Residency.
 
“Individuals who are in certain occupations, which require a professional qualification, will be presumed to receive their key employee status unless rebutted by the board (for example if they believe a Caymanian would be disenfranchised if they were to receive the key status),” Evans explains.
 
Another benefit for accredited companies is the ability to apply for three- to five-year work permits.
 
“The Immigration Law already provides for the application of such permits but in practice neither the Work Permit Board nor the work permit administrators consider such an application. We encourage employers to take advantage of this because the Boards will now consider such requests,” Miller explains.
 
Upgrading technology
Evans admits that technological advances in the Immigration Department’s system would make a huge difference to its efficiency, helping to streamline applications and speed up processes.
“Our staff have outlined around 400 man hours of upgrade time for our systems,” she states. “These include upgrading the application process, so individuals can make their work permit applications online, making payments online and paying by credit card.”
 
The Immigration Department uses the services of government’s central IT team, a group of individuals already working at full capacity.
 
“Any means to enhance the complement of this team would be of benefit to the Immigration Department,” she accedes.
 
In summary
Both Evans and Miller concur that the move to an administration system of work permit processing is the future for the Department.
 
“We arrive at a better decision for all concerned,” Miller says. “It’s a carefully structured system that allows for efficiency and good decision-making.”
 
Both Immigration officials also agree that the accreditation system is also the basis for the way forward for Immigration as it rewards good corporate citizens and once implemented in law would weed out unscrupulous employers.
 
“At present the emphasis is on the government to monitor pension and healthcare payment but the accreditation system would reverse the emphasis and make it mandatory for the employer to prove that they are in keeping with the Law. This is an added bonus to us also being able to identify the best corporate citizens and pro-Caymanian employers in Cayman,” Evans states. “I would like eventually to see the accreditation system a part of the Law whereby businesses will have to first be accredited before they are eligible for work permits.”
 
As far as getting the job done to the level required for a top notch immigration system, Evans concludes: “We know what we want to do and how to do it. We just need the resources to make it happen.”

Next month read how a business can become accredited.

Immigration-SM

Ms Linda Evans, Chief Immigration Officer and Ms Sherryl A. Miller Director of Boards and Work Permits

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