Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Welcome Wagon (Cayman's anti-immigrants)

McKeeva has promised to tweak Cayman’s anti-immigrant rules and procedures. I wonder how many foreign investors are comforted by that. Better some minor tweaking than none at all, of course, and we should be grateful for small mercies. But we need to bear in mind that all changes will be limited in duration to the term of the present Government.

The proposed changes aren’t supported by the Opposition Team. It is in thrall to the anti-immigrant lobby infinitely more than McKeeva’s Team is. The PPM will accuse the UDP of pandering to the expats, and will vow to revoke the changes after the next election. The proposed changes won’t be supported by the Immigration authorities either. Anti-expat sentiments are pretty much an essential pre-requisite for job applicants at the Immigration Department. The Department’s demographics reflect that- if it has more than six immigrants in its ranks, I’d be surprised.

The Department is autonomous, for all practical purposes. It determines its own policies. It exercises the power to choose which bits of the Immigration law to observe and which not. Its officers (allegedly) are allowed to give sub-rosa help and information to their friends and families. The immigration-related Boards and Committees are packed with cronies. They accept their appointments in order to wield power over their and their business rivals’ Work Permit grants- allegedly. Most members lobby fiercely for the jobs.

The proposed changes won’t alter the general practices on the ground, by either the Department or the Boards. All MLAs know very well that the changes have but one purpose- to persuade a few virgin investors to buy Cayman property before they have time to recognise the trap for what it is. Immediately after the 2013 election, the new Cabinet will reverse the changes- probably back-dated.

Our politicians are experienced in the art of retrospective legislation. After all, the starting points for the Rollovers were back-dated six years. A fair number of foreigners who had bought land and houses suddenly found themselves under notice to quit. Does anybody believe the same thing won’t happen again? The grants of Status in 2003 were within a whisker of being revoked, years after the grant- so the promised grants of “Permanent” Residence should not be relied on overmuch.

It doesn’t pay to under-estimate the power of the anti-expat lobby. Foreign investors who buy land and houses this time around- on the promise of the tweaked rules and procedures- will wake up one morning to find the regulations and policies back to what they are now. Our next general election is thirty months away. Is it even worth making the effort to relax our Immigration procedures if they are doomed to expire in thirty months?

Maybe, maybe not. Some new investors and new residents will be persuaded. However, as soon as the reforms are reversed they will quite likely go away again, angry at falling for the confidence-trick. Look McKeeva and advisors, by all means tweak the rules, but don’t do it without carrying the Opposition with you, and the Immigration bureaucracy too. Get your priorities straight!

First, create a climate of welcome for foreign investors– and only when you have succeeded in that should you roll out Cayman’s welcome mat. It doesn’t make any sense to do it the other way round. On the plus side, you have an impressive armoury. You have a National Investment Council (NIC) and a National Advisory Council (NAC), and there are rumours of a new Finance unit charged with disparaging Ireland as a tax-haven alternative to Cayman.

Well, with a NIC, NAC, and a Paddy-whack, we should be in good shape. If all goes according to Hoyle, somebody might throw us a bone.