Published in the Caymanian Compass: 11 July 2012
Recently it was announced that the Term Limit Review Committee, the team of people tasked with reviewing whether Cayman should keep or do away with the Government’s term limit immigration policy (otherwise known as the “rollover”), had presented their findings to Government. I feel that this subject is extremely important to Cayman and specifically Cayman’s real estate industry.
In the report it was recommended that Government do away with the key employee provision of the law and instead allow everyone on a work permit to apply for permanent residency after they have lived in these islands for seven years. They would have up to ten years of residency and after that point if they haven’t gained residency then they must leave for at least a year. I believe this is a fair way to encourage inward investment into the Cayman Islands but only if the system is fair and transparent and individuals are aware well ahead of time just what is expected of them.
It has often been said that rollover hurt business because it forced people who wanted to live here to leave and indeed the term limit policy has been blamed for many of Cayman’s economic problems; however I would argue that, while rollover may have had some detrimental effect on businesses and our real estate industry, it actually had little to do with the current economic situation the country currently finds itself in. Our current situation, in limbo while the Government tries to get to grips with balancing the budget, has more to do with leadership issues and something we have no control over – the world economy.
Years ago we did not even have the privilege of knowing that we had at least seven years of opportunity to work and reside here, and each work permit was scrutinised on an annual basis as to whether they would remain on island or not. This set the stage for a truly migrant population where very few were willing to make long term investment in property. Setting up a path of progressive rights that led someone to permanent residency and ultimately status was, to my mind, a sensible way to give people the chance to become part of the community, put down roots and purchase property and has significantly helped Cayman’s real estate industry. The rollover policy was brought into place to reduce Cayman’s long term liability to provide for migrant workers and their families that the country just could not afford, but still allowed time for those wanting to invest.
Now, it has been suggested that everyone should get the chance to apply for permanent residency. Professionals who look to move to Cayman generally tend to be good planners who bring their families with them. They need to know well in advance if they are to stand a chance of acquiring permanent residence so they can properly plan for their and their children’s future, while investing in their home. Likewise, if an individual has their permanent residency application turned down they should have plenty of time to tie up their affairs, including selling their property, which can take over a year. They must be given time to map out their exit strategy, just as any investor needs time to wrap up their investments.
I think the solution to Cayman’s economic woes is in Government leading the way with a practical solution to creating a budget surplus. This can only be done by one or both of two ways – reduce expenditure and increase earnings. I believe that if Government looked to reducing their labour costs and started to employ the private sector for work that it is much better equipped and qualified to undertake, while encouraging the private sector to take on some of the government staff that would now be available; we would see an upsurge in Cayman’s economic situation straight away.
I would like to leave you with a few questions to ponder, when it comes to the question of whether individuals should be allowed to acquire permanent residency and status: how many of us can honestly see our lives based in Cayman? How many of us would give up our own nationality to become Caymanian? And how many of us are proud to call ourselves Caymanian?
Final word, every time Immigration has given more time or opportunity for people to stay or join our community, Cayman’s real estate market has benefitted greatly, so have many other industries. However, our immigration policy is critical to the development and growth of these islands.
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