New immigration figures reveal plethora of surprises

A bevy of new information has been released on how many non-Caymanian workers are being granted the right to remain here for the rest of their lives.   Some of the records released by the Immigration Department or under Freedom of Information requests made by the Journal may surprise you.   

For instance, only 40 per cent of the permanent residence applications made by non-Caymanian workers in their own right (not as a spouse or dependant of a Caymanian) have been approved in the past three years.  

Cayman has lost some 7,000 work permits between December 2008 and now, but a conservative estimate based on the figures provided is that some 2,500 of those people ended up staying here under one type of permanent resident status or another.  

More than 60 per cent of the key employee applications made over the past three years have been approved.  

The number of work permits held in the Cayman Islands as of 6 October, 2011 was 19,378 – dropping from more than 26,000 held in 2008 – closer to levels seen prior to Hurricane Ivan hitting Cayman in 2004.  

The Cayman Islands’ immigration system operates on a graduated system of rights and immigration status for foreign born residents who seek to stay. All foreign employees working in the Cayman Islands are required to obtain a work permit, unless they are married to a Caymanian.  

Work permit holders are required to leave the Cayman Islands after seven years of continuous residence unless they are granted key employee status, which gives them the right to reside on Island for a further two years. Those extra two years allow a non-Caymanian worker to remain long enough to apply for permanent residence – the right to stay here the rest of their lives.  

Permanent residence holders are able to apply for British Overseas Territories’ citizenship within a year of being granted their residency status. Permanent residence holders can also apply separately for Caymanian status – the right to be Caymanian – after a certain number of years of being resident on Island, typically 15, unless the residence-holder is married to a Caymanian.  


PR grants  

For the first time, under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, the full number of permanent residence grants given to non-Caymanians during the past three years has been released. The figures detail grants in every category of residence presented and correspond to the time during which the sharp decline in work permit numbers was seen. They do not represent the full number of permanent residence-holders who live here, only those grants made during the past three years.  

The majority of the residence grants between September 2008 and thus far in November 2011 went to spouses of Caymanians (1,558). Those applications are rarely declined, having been approved more than 80 per cent of the time since September 2008.  

Applications for permanent residence from foreign individuals who worked in Cayman for eight years and applied in their own right to stay here were declined 60 per cent of the time between September 2008 and November 2011. According to Immigration Department figures, 1,414 people were granted permanent residence as a result of those applications, and 2,099 were refused during the period.  

The overall number of applications for permanent residence declined sharply between July 2009 and November 2011, when compared to applications made between September 2008 and June 2009.  

Comparatively few people of independent means, including wealthy retirees, have applied for grants of residence. According to immigration figures, a total of 68 people of independent means have been granted residence within the past three years and another seven wealthy retirees have been granted leave to remain.  

Fewer than 50 people in the past three years have been approved to legally reside here as the dependant of a Caymanian; it is not clear whether that figure includes children. A total of 333 people were granted the right to remain and work as a dependant of a permanent resident-holder. 


Who’sreally left?   

The 7,000-plus person drop in work permit numbers between December 2008 and now included a decline in those individuals who were “working as an operation of law”; in other words, awaiting decisions on permanent residence applications and appeals of work permit denials.  

It is likely the majority of the 1,414 people granted permanent residence between September 2008 and November 2011 were included at some point on the “working as an operation of law” list. In that instance, those individuals would have been taken off the work permit-holder lists and added as permanent residents; still part of Cayman’s population, just no longer showing up as work permit holders. It is also likely this is what occurred with the majority of the 333 people who became dependants of work permit holders with the right to work during that period.  

It is impossible to determine from the figures presented by the Immigration Department how many of the 1,558 people granted residence by way of marriage to Caymanians previously held work permits. Any change in their immigration status because of that would have, again, taken them off the work permit list and made them part of Cayman’s permanent population.  

However, even if all of those people were added together as previous work permit-holders – 1,414 permanent residence grantees, their 333 working dependants, and 1,558 spouses of Caymanians – it would equal far less than half of the work permit decline since in Cayman since December 2008.  

If only half the spouses of Caymanians were work permit holders prior to getting married and being granted residency rights; that would leave a 4,600 work permit drop unaccounted for by the permanent residence grant figures. The rate of permanent resident grant approvals taken during the three year period shows a roughly 40 per cent approval rate for those foreign workers who have lived in Cayman for eight years and who applied for permanent residence in their own right. 


The immigration boards appointed by the ruling United Democratic Party government have – on average – approved permanent residence applications 56 per cent of the time, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Law.  

Since July 2009, the start of the first full fiscal year under the UDP government, and through mid-November of this year, there were 801 permanent residence applications approved and 638 declined.  

Those numbers only include individuals who are applying for residence in their own right, not as a spouse or dependant of a Caymanian or as a dependant of any other residence-holder in the Cayman Islands.  

Since July 2009, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board has approved PR applications for non-Caymanian individuals seeking residence here in their own right at a rate of about 27 or 28 applications a month.  

Applications have been declined at a rate of 22 per month during that time. 

What may be surprising to note is in the last 10 months of the former People’s Progressive Movement government’s administration, permanent residence applications were being approved at a rate of 61 per month.  

The former PPM government’s appointed boards also declined PR applications at a much higher rate during those last 10 months – at a clip of some 146 per month.  

Overall, during the last 10 months of the PPM administration, immigration-related boards averaged a 30 per cent approval rate for permanent residence applications made by non-Caymanians seeking status in their own right, not as a dependant or spouse of a Caymanian.  

The figures provided by the Immigration Department under the FOI Law also show 2,074 PR applications were heard during the last 10 months of the PPM government’s administration. In the 29 months since the UDP took control of government, 1,439 PR applications made by non-Caymanians applying in their own right have been heard. 

Glut of applications  

Part of the reason so many more permanent residence applications were heard during 2008 and 2009, is the Immigration Department was dealing with a massive backlog of applications from individuals who had been exempted from Cayman’s seven-year term limit on residency for foreign workers.  

In January 2004, when the seven-year term limit or “rollover policy” came into effect, anyone who had been here for five years or longer was allowed to remain in Cayman for at least eight years – enough time to apply for permanent residence.  

That led to a mass of PR applications being filed between mid-2005 and 2007, as the “pre-rollover” workers came up to the eight-year residence period. 

The sheer number of applications created a delay in processing permanent residence applications in 2008 and 2009, detailed by the figures released to the Compass last month.  

In 2009, there were a total of 1,878 permanent residence applications processed on behalf of workers applying in their own right to stay in Cayman.  

Those 2009 applications were approved only 32 per cent of the time.  

However, the Immigration Department at the time noted it was struggling to process thousands of applications.  

Officials said applicants with no reasonable chance of getting PR filed with immigration just to stay on Island a bit longer.  

During the past two years, applications for permanent residence have dropped off considerably and the approval rate has gone up significantly.  

In 2010, Immigration Department figures showed 533 permanent residence applications were made with an approval rate of about 55 per cent.  

In 2011, that application figure decreased further to 448 and approvals were around 72 per cent through mid-November.

Key employees  

There have been 511 approvals of key employee applications and 314 refusals of those applications in the past two years and nine months; roughly a 62 per cent approval rate, according to Immigration Department figures. 

Those figures include applications made since 1 January, 2009 through 30 September, 2011. The vast majority of those key employee approvals have gone to individuals from three countries; Jamaica (113 approvals), the United Kingdom (102 approvals), and Canada (92 approvals).  

The occupations granted key employee status most often were professional managers, domestic helpers, accountants, teachers and lawyers. A variety of jobs that are granted key employee approvals, more than half of the 511 key employee approvals since January 2009, have been in “other” jobs categories which were not defined in the immigration report.  

Key employee refusals occurred most often in the following categories: carpenters, domestic helpers, labourers, gardeners and administrative positions.    

Work permits  

The immigration report provides detailed information on work permit numbers during a period of years.  

A chart provided by the Immigration Department shows the number of work permit holders steadily rising through the middle part of the last decade, and then falling toward the end to their current level – approximately 19,691 as of 30 September. Those figures include foreign workers here on government contracts and individuals “working as an operation of law”, awaiting the results of permanent residence applications or appeals of work permit refusals.  

The work permit numbers showed a slight increase in permit holders between March and September of this year. However, figures given to the Journal in January noted there were approximately 20,500 worker permit holders on Island.  

Immigration figures also revealed the number of government contract holders had declined sharply since 2008; going from 1,464 in September 2008 to 911 in September 2011.  

The seven nationalities holding the majority of work permits in the Cayman Islands have not changed in recent years. As of September 2011 they were Jamaicans (7,517), Filipinos (2,572), citizens of the United Kingdom (1,719), US citizens (1,305), Canadians (1,147), Indians (768), and Hondurans (753). 


Those permited to work in the Cayman Islands receive a special stamp on their passport.