Right now immigration is a particularly difficult issue. Employment issues are always exacerbated when the economy is slow. In an economy with more locals out of work, that is inevitable. But as I look back on the immigration policies over the last 30 years, it is obvious that the politicians in power have been responsible for a widely swinging pendulum which has gotten more and more extreme with every change of government. This is a big part of our problem in trying to create a balanced immigration policy.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, 12 status grants were available per year but 12 were not always given. Status grants were wholly based on merit, which was determined by the Protection (Immigration) Board. This was a very workable system for its time.
There was no official residency program, but residency was not widely encouraged. Sometime in the early ‘90s status grants were eliminated entirely and the lack of a robust residency policy continued. This policy ostensibly worked but would lead to a backlog of suitable status candidates waiting in the wings with 20 years or more of continuous residency. This elimination of all status grants was the first of the extreme policies, which would lead to trouble later.
By the new millennium times had changed, the ambiguous concept of “natural justice” was the new buzzword, and the government was advised that many of our long term foreign residents might be eligible to sue for citizenship under that concept. As a result the government of that day in their wisdom decided to reward some 2,800 people (and by extension family members) grants of Cayman status. With one stroke of the pen the number of Caymanian citizens was increased by a very large percentage. That was the next extreme response to the previous extreme of no status at all.
With another new government the next extreme was to create the “rollover policy” whereby all foreigners had to leave after seven years, regardless of the employers need for that individual, or the value of that individual to the community at large.
Another change in government led to a two year extension of the rollover period while a long-term solution could be determined. This was just delaying making a substantive decision by a care-taker government.
So here we are now, facing a decision on the fate of 1,500 individuals who are also employees of many businesses in an economy with significant local unemployment for the first time in history. This is no time for another bout of extremism. We are stuck with the fact that the rollover exists and these individuals and businesses have known for years they would need to leave and have now had a further two years of grace. We also have a government which has been elected partially on a promise of more employment for locals.
The Coalition for Cayman has suggested a procedure which would allow for the completion of this rollover procedure while being mindful of the logistical concerns of the Immigration Department. As a member of C4C I agree with that concept in this particular situation.
However, I do not believe the extreme solutions successive governments have been choosing are the best solutions. I believe the rollover policy is patently unfair: unfair to the worker, to the employer and to the Caymanian Community. There is no doubt in my mind that in any group of immigrants there are some who are invaluable to their employer and/or of great benefit to our community. We sometimes tend to forget that most of our employers are also Caymanians who have every right to make a living.
As a person who has been on work permits as an employee and has applied for them as an employer, my feeling is the system does work. As an employer, I can confirm the work permit process is cumbersome and expensive for employers to hire foreign workers – as it is meant to be. But if an employer has a real need for a particular worker he should have every right to make that application. And the Immigration Board, being sensitive to current economic circumstances and the needs of the employer and the country will make the final decision. That is also as it should be.
I submit the rollover is a one size fits all, lazy-man’s policy which deprives us of the opportunity to keep the most valuable foreigners. The uniqueness of Cayman has always been its ability and willingness to absorb good expats into our society. I contend that it was and still should be the purview of the Immigration Board to review all applications by foreigners and to determine, in view of the above and with the guidance of some very specific criteria including a reasonable and transparent point system, whether a person is qualified not only for a work permit, but also residency and Cayman status. I believe there should be no quotas. The numbers granted should simply be appropriate for the conditions of the day as determined by the Immigration Board of the day as to who meets the current qualification.
Proper local education and a reasonable and transparent residency policy are two very important and related areas, which if they were working effectively, would go a long way toward solving many of our immigration problems. But these are issues which deserve in depth commentary in their own right.
The proper solution will ultimately be a holistic one in which each of these related issues are properly addressed. What we are missing is a thoughtful human approach to individuals keeping in mind the circumstances of the day. The “one size fits all” policies, which are reactions to the extreme policies of predecessors, create more problems than they solve.