Immigration challenges

| 22/03/2010

Cayman’s stickiest and most controversial topic is likely to get even stickier in the coming months as the fallout from civil service cuts leads to more Caymanians looking for work in the private sector. If ever there was a need for the system to meet the balance between the needs of local workers and employers it’s now, making it imperative that the Immigration Review Team (IRT) gets it right.

Government has said it has no plans to cut jobs just yet and will reduce through divestment, but whatever the political rhetoric, unless the government does a u-turn on tax policy the job cuts are coming, and hence new pressure on the immigration problem.

It’s fair to say that there is probably no one who better understands the issues surrounding the jurisdiction’s immigration challenges and the sensitivities that go with it than Sherri Bodden Cowan, considering how much she has wrestled with the issue over the last decade. So, when she spoke recently about the need to police and enforce the new accreditation system when it’s implemented, government needs to listen.

As she pointed out, to gain support for any new method of managing immigration and its direct connection to our economic well-being, this system must be seen to be working properly, which means ensuring that not only does it have the potential to work when implemented but that people follow the rules.

One of the major problems with the existing immigration system is not necessarily that the concept behind the system was fundamentally flawed, but that the system did not work and, more importantly, even where it might have worked it was perceived not to do so.

When the economy is booming and there are jobs for all in every possible category, the problem was less apparent. However, the recession changed all that. With already rising unemployment in the private sector set to get worse with the pressure to reduce the civil service, if locals see expats continuing to take the jobs that they feel should be theirs, rightly or wrongly, the divisions that are becoming increasingly apparent will get worse.

While many people seem to want to blame the commenter’s on Cayman News Service for every conceivable ill in the community, including this growing divide,  the bloggers, commenter’s or callers to talks shows are not the problem. They are merely expressing what people have believed for some time but have had few avenues in which to state it, which is that many see the immigration system as being manipulated.

Employees believe that employers dodge their obligations or, as was noted at the recent YUDP meeting, ‘fudge’ their business staffing plans and work permit applications to avoid compliance with the rules.

Many young Caymanians perceive that they are not being offered a fair crack and that training programmes in their organisations are nothing more than lip service, if they exist at all. But many say their employers simply lie about their in-house training programmes.

People still believe the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board are manipulated and that, despite the law, decisions are made arbitrarily and not in accordance with the rules of the current immigration law and regulations. The bottom line is that immigration needs to be transparent and, as Bodden Cowan has said, both fair and accountable.

Good employers should not be prevented from recruiting who they want, provided that they are employing and training local workers and supporting good causes. But when they are not it needs to be exposed and there has to be consequences.

Everyone in Cayman who has been here for more than a few months can probably attest to employers that they know are breaking the rules and getting away with it as it is incredibly common. So long as work permit decisions are made in secrecy this will continue to happen. A points system should enable not just the employer and employees involved to see how decisions are made but the wider community as well.

In order for the private sector to function the system has to be efficient, but the community as a whole also needs to have faith that the country’s immigration policy actually works and gives the local workforce a fair chance at a decent job with a livingwage.

The tough decisions that are expected to be made by government over the next few years will see an increase in Caymanian unemployment and the pressure to hire local staff will be placed on the private sector. While there may be very legitimate reasons for not hiring every out of work Caymanian that comes for an interview, the system must appear to be fair, otherwise the perception of discrimination will widen the existing divide and lead to serious unrest in the community. People must know why a company has been given permits when there are Caymanians available. Once the reason are known, whether it is a real case of skill gaps or lack of experience or is, in fact, prejudice, then the problem can be addressed.

With no full benefit system in place, when Cayman loses its safety net of government social employment, private sector employers will be required to step up to the plate and take on those locals who have become casualties of the changes, but many will be reluctant to do so. Those at the top of the private sector pile have become accustomed to being able to select exactly who they want, rarely allowing nationality to influence their decision and without obligation to even try and find a Caymanian. Those at the bottom have also become used to exploiting foreign workers and keeping their wage and benefits bill to a minimum.

The key, therefore, will be, as Bodden Cowan observes, enforcement and transparency. If not then Cayman’s perennial immigration headache is about to become a serious migraine.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    We cannot ignore that we Caymanians are contributing to this reputation of being unreliable and having poor work ethics.  Recently, I needed some small construction work done around my house and offer the job to a young Caymanian who I knew was capable of the work.  After promising me faithfully that he would start the job on a particular day, he failed to show up and failed to call.  I have since made some inquiries with people who know him and understand that he just didn’t feel like it……

    This attitude is completely unacceptable and I’m afraid that Mrs Cowan-Bodden’s approach will just encourage more of the same.  Albeit it well intentioned, it may just encourage a greater sense of ‘entitlement’ among Caymanians.

    Come on my fellow young and talented Caymanian!  When our forefathers went to sea and established an international reputation as good and knowledgeable  seamen, they did that by actually showing up for work and then by doing the work. Today, we can recognise a similar international reputation among the Filipino workers who are, in general, a pleasure to have around in that they demonstrate a positive and willing approach to their work.  

    Come on Cayman, it is not rocket science to know that when we enter into a contract of employment we’re expected to show up on time, do the work required and understand that,  we part of an organsation where, much like our seamen forefathers, we must all do our part to keep the ship moving in the right direction. Don’t let our forefathers down!!


    • Anonymous says:

      Having worked in Cayman as an expat a few years ago, I found local labour having an unenthusiastic approach to work and that because they were Caymanians, they didn’ t need to be. Most were unreliable, taking time off when it suited them. I can’t understand why. It is preferable for employers to recruit locals, as it is easier, cheaper and quicker, so you have the advantage to gain employment. You ought to try finding employment in an other counrty, then you’d have something to moan about.

  2. cross lady says:

    Why does almost every Caymanian employer I know employ expats and not Caymanians?  Even going as far employing a stranger from the other side of the world, such as my friend who owns a store and opted to pay for the work permit and the airfare, rather than recruit one of several locals who had responded to the ‘Caymanians Only’ classified ad for a simple customer-facing job in retail with a fair wage?    

    Or the many Caymanians families who employ Honduran, Philipino and Jamaican home helps?  

    If you are a Caymanian and not guilty of employing non-Caymanians over Caymanian applicants, you know other Caymanians who are, right?

  3. ZZ Hill says:

    Yes Cayman I over heard the Premier say himself we do not need another Commitee yet he has set up the IRT Immigration Relax Team They are sent to relax immigration rules and policy to suit there political agenda. Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the oppositedirection. We need to reduce or wants and manage our needs wisely. Disenfranchising our own people is a recipe for disaster. 

  4. Good Luck says:

    I am a 27 year old Caymanian who recently recieved employment with our Govt, prior to this i was on a six month job hunt in the private sector.

     What makes my experience interesting is I hold a degree,multiple Chamber of Commerce certifications,proven track record of excellence and 8 years experience in my respective industry,I have also never been fired byan employer. With these things in mind I comfortably thought I should not have too much of a problem getting a job…..

    First interview I was told I was perfect for the role and that I would be hearing from them in a few days,one month later I learnt the position was giving to an underqualified,work permit needing individual who has since been fired,when I called and ask what happened I was told they left me voicemail messages and that I did not respond…..ive yet to find these messages.

    Second interview I was flat out told that maybe I should go work in a bank,interviewer was Expat.

    At this point still not wanting to face the harsh reality I decided to sharpen my interview skills completing a small course online, maybe i was coming off arrogant I thought and figured id change that approach as well.

    Third Interview I walked in confidently answering all questions like a Pro but I couldnt ignore the fact that I was being Judged because of my Caymanian background,my experience was challenged because it was Cayman based(never understood why it didnt help as they were conducting business in Cayman) needless to say I never heard from these guys.

    4-5-6 interviews later nothing meanwhile passing all entry tests,dressing sharper than a ginsu knife and acting sweeter than a pedophile.

    Well at this point Im tired and feeling quite useless ultimately figuring I will include the help of Employment Relations,this brought me two interviews both of which the roles were already filled.

    Well I told myself its time to look to my Goverment for employment, I excelled at my entry exam,meet with the Departments board which includes expat and caymanian, for the first time in 6 months an interviewer was actually paying attention to my accomplishments,my youth as an oppurtuity to build themselves future leaders and my enthusiasm to work.I recently recieved my offer letter and I could not be happier even if im only making 1/3 of what I was making  in my previous private sector Job.

    This letter is not intended to offend or bash either the Private Sector or Government it is just an account of what is happening in our Job market by a young qualified Caymanian.

    We must work together and stop the division.





    • Anonymous says:

      The reason you and every Caymanain youth will have a hard time is the  "Hidden truth"  that most employers know about what has happened in the past after hiring a Caymanian.  Its the same reason that so many jobs are held by expats that "theoretically could be done by Caymanians. If Caymanians were known for their good work ethics you would have no problem. Only people like you can change this history and this would solve the immigration issue.

      • Sad but true says:

        Sadly this comment is so true.  I personally try to hire as many Caymanians as possible, but to be very honest I have been very very disappointed by many employees’ attitudes after the first month or so.  Does this consciously affect my hiring approach?  No.  Does it subconsciously affect what I decide to do?  It might.


    • Anonymous says:

      Your story tells what is wrong with the system.  But lots of questions arise from this letter because some things just don’t make sense.

      1) What is your degree in?

      2) What position were you applying for?

      3) Even if you weren’t fired, did you leave your previous job on bad terms?

      4) Did you use the "sweeter than a phedophile" metaphor in your interviews?

      5) What precisely about your Caymanian background did the interviewers not like?

      6) How were you able to get a government job when there is supposedly a hiring freeze?  (Good for you, but kind of the opposite of what the government and Civil Service are saying).



  5. TennisAce says:

    The DER does work with Immigration when it comes to the granting of work permits. Whenever a company places an ad in the newspaper, the DER provides that company with copies of CVs of Caymanians who may be interested.  Interviews are conducted and if the company in question decides that the Caymanian applicant is not what they are looking for and decide to hire an expat they not only have to provide the CV of the Caymanian but they also have to provide the DER with an explanation as to why the Caymanian was not suitable for the post.  I have seen many CVs come into my office as a result of ads placed in the newspaper on behalf of our clients.  One of the biggest mistakes that job applicants make is in the presentation of their CVs.  It is usually poorly done, riddled with grammatical as well as spelling errors and most of the time the experience that is listed has nothing to do with the  job being advertised.  I think the DER should really sit down or have a seminar with prospective job applicants regarding how to prepare a CV.  Our firm has interviewed several Caymanians over the years for various positions in banking, legal, tourism etc and while people may have the required degrees etc., one of the fundamental flaws that I have seen with those who went on to get placed in jobs is the degree to which new Caymanian employees walk off the job after a few months, whether it is because of dissatisfaction with their employer, they got a better offer or they just did not like the people with whom they worked.  I do not know how many people out there like the peoplethat they work with but as far as I am aware you do not necessarily have to be friends with your co-workers in order to be successful at your job.  I have also heard complaints from Caymanians that working along with expats makes you feel like an outsider in your own country.  This is a complaint that no company can hope to overcome.  Perhaps companies should try to at least foster a more cordial work environment between expats and locals so that locals do not feel as much as outsiders and expats can feel free to be friends with their local colleagues and everyone can go out on a Friday evening for a beer and bash the boss.  

  6. Sole Provider says:

    "So long as work permit decisions are made in secrecy this will continue to happen. A points system should enable not just the employer and employees involved to see how decisions are made but the wider community as well."

    While there is some merit to the above statement transparency must work both ways. 

    When an employer elects not to hire a suitably qualified Caymanian there is no transparency for the reasoning behind the decision.

    Excuses such as "overqualified, not enough overseas experience, not the right corporate fit, etc" are heard all too often and should not be accepted.

    Many young Caymanians have attended the same or better universities in the same countries these firms are recruiting from and have graduated with excellent results.

    Mrs. Bodden Cowan is absolutely spot on to call for stronger enforcement.

    Perhaps the IRT can start by having all Caymanian applicants copy their job application to the immigration department.

    An annual HR audit performed by Immigration enforcement and the Department of Employment Relations for randomly selected companies is another idea. 

    In some countries such as Canada, a member of the Labour Department sits in on interviews where a work permit is requested. 

    Where an application is made for a Key Employee the IRT can suggest that it is mandatory to attach a Regulation 6  to the application where a suitable Caymanian has applied or is just below the key position in the organisational hierchy.

    All four of these suggestions will assist with the murky issue of transparency with respect to local hiring practices. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you. All excellent suggestions. Please persist in raising them in case you have not been heard this time.

    • Play Fish Tea For Me says:

      "Where an application is made for a Key Employee the IRT can suggest that it is mandatory to attach a Regulation 6  to the application where a suitable Caymanian has applied or is just below the key position in the organisational hierchy."

      Ah encourage a high quality financial services industry by threatening the job security of the most senior employees.  That is what they did with Maples’ IT department, which is heading to Leeds. 

      • Anonymous says:

        Is that the situation where Caymanians applied and were told, without interview, they had no relevant experience, when in fact they may well have?

        Did they all get the same (identical) rejection letter?

        Did the Board get full details of the fact of the Caymanians’ applications, and the basis for their lack of interview?

        Does pretty much every major financial services industry player in the Cayman Islands have good Caymanians (new and traditional) successfully dealing with high level IT issues?

        Just asking. Answers would clear up a lot of unhealthy rumour and speculation.


        • Play Fish Tea For Me says:

          The only question that matters is "Where is the IT department?" and the one answer that matters is "Not in Cayman anymore".  If forcing businesses to bin existing experienced senior employees as part of roll-over has this effect then what good is it doing?

          • Anonymous says:

            I suppose it is better to arrest people rather than simply attaching a Reg.6 to their employee.

        • Tommy Turtle says:

          The Maples IT move XXXXXX

          Cayman is the real looser. 20 jobs have moved. 5 Caymanians lost their jobs. 

          20 roles (USD 75k per annum x 15 = USD 1.5m per annum lost from the economy). 20 apartments not rented. 20 cars not being serviced or licenced of filled with gas. 20 families no longer paying school fees. 20 less families buying groceries. 20 less people eating at restaurants. 20 less.

          Maples had a great IT Team. In fact, the best on island. Not due to their leader but due to the individuals themselves. Ask anyone in the industry. The small team that remains is headed by a paper Caymanian and 75% of the team of the team are Caymanian.

          Mac and Immigration should do all they can to get help these guys get the rest of them back in Cayman where they belong.

          If you don’t more will follow. Finance, compliance, marketing. There won’t be redundancies this time just good people being forced out over time.

          Let’s get the 20 back. Come on Mac help bring them back. Come on Maples bring em back. Come on, what’s stopping you ? Are you really saving money ? We all make mistakes. We can all forgive, learn from our mistakes and move on.

          Come on, bring them back, well on second thoughts bring 19 of them back…..

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, I agree. Let us exempt the big players from all our laws. They were only ever meant to apply to the little guys anyway.

            (You never answered the question).

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Wendy.You nailed it! However your comment that everyone who has been here more than a few months can probably attest to employers who are breaking the rules with impunity is not quite true. Plainly the Attorney General, some Board Members, and the Police cannot, for if they did, would they not have an obligation to prosecute?

    I do agree that everyone except for those individuals probably has first hand knowledge of breaches of the law. I comeaccross at least two every week (usually an expat screwing with a Caymanian, but not infrequently, a Caymanian abusing an expat).

    Mr. A.G., responsibility for our current breakdown in Caymanian/Expat relations is with you, and your failure to seek to enforce the law. Are you going to act now, or are you actually waiting for a physical assault on some poor expat who never even knew his employer had lied to immigration resulting inhis assailant being unemployed. Is that not enough? Then what if a Jamaican labourer loses both legs due to a lack of mandatory insurance (amputation is cheaper than treatment), which you knew about before he fell, but did nothing because his contactor employer was, or was connected to, your friend? Still not enough? OK, what if an unemployed Caymanian jumped off the roof of the new government building after being fired for reporting his employer’s breaches of the law you ensured that immigration told his employer of his (accurate) complaint? Would you act then?

  8. Alice says:

    A very good article- I don’t know why it has taken so long to come to grips with the facts that having Boards dealing with the majority of work permits is a failed model.

  9. what a mess says:

    I suggest we stock up on migraine meds then.

    Because our Governments are not likely to truly become transparent…not if they can help it…and nether is most of the Private sector.

    Surly it could not cost this country much more to bring about a fair tax (like property tax) than it has/does to continue with this Work Permit/Immigration farce. And a fair minimum wage.

    Get ready for the social unrest and accompanying migraines…

  10. Anonymous Caymanian says:

    Quite ironic….Bodden Cowan says that enforcement and transparency is the key; the problem is, as she stands along with the UDP Administration…she loses more and more credibility, because her government has a horrible track-record on enforcement and transparency.

    It was her government that just created additional immigration approval "committees", …and someone remind me again why they claimed that these two additional teams were required…hmmm…

    Like someone else commented on another piece…UDP and facts are like trying to mix oil and water…UDP and transparency are also like trying to mix oil and water…

    The UDP balance scale always tilts in favor of the expatriates, or rather, in favor of their rich financial contributors…

  11. Anonymous says:

    If they couldn’t cut it in the civil service how can they make it in a real job ?

    • Anonymous says:

      Well it depends if the "real job" is willing to hire them!  Have you ever thought about that?

    • cross lady says:

      now that’s just cheeky!  The Civil Service has a separate culture in most countries …. backward, conservative and very slow.  So working for the Civil Service in a tiny island in the Caribbean will be a great challenge.  If you learn to work this culture, such as finding a way to suckup to the boss (joining their church is a great start; bringing in home cooked turtle even better), or cultivate patience and tact to work with grossly antiquated management techniques, and putting up with colleagues that are really ‘dead wood’ but employed as a favour to somebody management needed to please … it makes you a really successful employee in many private industries!  Especially Real Estate.