Chamber of Commerce Statement: Work permit system needs to be overhauled; National dialogue on employment issues recommended
According to a recent press report, a Government minister recently blamed employers for the challenges that some Caymanians face in finding employment. According to the report, the Minister said the work permit system has allowed employers to gain "easy access to work permits" without holding them accountable to their business staffing plans. He described the work permit system as "confusion alley" and said it is preventing willing and able Caymanians from finding work. He also said businesses have a moral obligation to support and help the community.
The Chamber of Commerce wholeheartedly supports the minister's call for root and branch reform of the immigration process. At the same time we can assure the Minister that employers most certainly do not have "easy access to work permits". The business staffing plan system, like the process for obtaining a work permit in general, is confusing, onerous, and time consuming. It has not achieved its intended purpose.
Contrary to the Minister's statement, the experience of our members is that the immigration boards will grant a work permit only after an employer has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that no suitably-qualified Caymanian can be found. Given the high cost, uncertainty and delay, the vast majority of employers consider a work permit application a last resort after exhausting all possible avenues to hire a Caymanian.
While the immigration system must guarantee Caymanians access to every available job opportunity, it must also guarantee employers a suitably-qualified Caymanian or, failing that, a work permit for a suitably-qualified expatriate. The Chamber of Commerce stands willing and able to assist the government in developing a system that is both expeditious and fair to all stakeholders concerned.
On the other hand, wholesale denial or frustration of work permits will only cause the economy to contract further and put more Caymanians out of work. Failing companies do not equate to job opportunities for Caymanians nor success for Caymanian business owners.
We would also point out that, in an economy with 20,000 more jobs than citizens, it is unrealistic, in fact mathematically impossible, for every job to be awarded to a Caymanian. Therefore, it is disingenuous to portray every work permit issued as a Caymanian job lost.
The Chamber of Commerce condemns every instance of discrimination against Caymanians. However, we reject the notion that the private sector is systematically biased. The private sector would not employ 13,000 working Caymanians if local employers were predisposed to not hiring them. Caymanians who have suffered discrimination must have an effective avenue to pursue their claims and to seek redress. Businesses must be entitled to due process of law to defend themselves against any such accusation. The current system provides neither. Instead it creates only resentment, innuendo and conspiracy theories that sew division in our community.
The Chamber agrees that businesses have a moral obligation to support the community. However, we believe that creating 13,000 jobs for Caymanians, directly paying or generating hundreds of millions of dollars in government revenue, and unwavering support for all manner of local charities is ample evidence that local business owners already take this obligation seriously. It's time respected members of government stopped blaming business owners for the social ills that successive governments have failed to prevent.
Let's move away from the blame game and work together to develop a system that serves Caymanians while facilitating economic growth rather than standing in its way. It's time for a national dialogue on immigration and employment issues. The Chamber stands ready to work with government to facilitate such a discussion and to ensure the outcome is increased prosperity for all Caymanians.