Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More Immigrants, Please! (Cayman needs them)

McKeeva and his advisors are absolutely right in asserting that Cayman needs more immigrants. Without a higher population, our economy will be hard put to recover to its former level.

We also need more long-term stakeholders. Keeping immigrants in a state of uncertainty does no good for the economy. There is nothing wrong with rollovers in principle; many immigrants roll themselves over every few years anyway. But expelling those who don’t want to leave (or not right then) is stupid, regardless of what level of society they belong to. It is a slap in the face not only for the individuals but also for Cayman’s hopes of a stable society. The stench of resentment hangs over all the expat communities, and that’s a serious obstacle to progress.

One hears talk of a population ideal of 100,000. Well, that’s just a guess. One never hears what nationalities or occupational skills or ages or family sizes might make up that total. Maybe some secret crony-committee somewhere in the bowels of the Legislative Assembly Building is working on the matter; but, if so, the topic is too hot for any discussions to be made public. Also, too hot to allow any immigrants to be in on the secret discussions, apparently. (Nothing wrong with secret discussions per se, Miss Mary; I’m just saying…)

For a couple of years, long ago, I sat on the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee. There were some good and smart people there- a mixture of expats and native Caymanians- but we never submitted a formal report to the Chamber’s Council. Why? Because we were not allowed to speculate on population numbers in any category or in total. The politicians simply considered that a taboo subject.

These twenty years or so later, the taboo is only just being gradually weakened. In between times, Cayman doubled its population under the surly frowns of the Immigration authorities, who delved into a grab-bag of nations for new transient workers. The powerful anti-immigrant lobby has always argued bitterly against increasing the proportion of immigrants in the population. The Lobby has just about every MLA on its side, plus the entire Immigration bureaucracy.

Because of the taboo, nobody ever explained to the Lobby’s members the economic importance of a higher population. It may be too late now. They are too steeped in ignorance and xenophobia to surrender an ounce of their prejudices. Unless McKeeva can drive a wedge between the tribalists and the more worldly Caymanians, and unite the latter with all the expat communities, he has no chance of getting the extra immigrants he says Cayman needs.

Yet gaining the confidence of the expat communities is something he won’t do. He doesn’t quite have the courage, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, in Lady Macbeth’s famous words. He might gain a few brownie points by bringing full transparency to all immigration-related procedures, though. He might even get some help from the present Chief Immigration Officer, of all people. She was a member of the Vision-2008 Open and Accountable Government Committee twelve years ago, that urged openness in all such matters. (My “Everybody’s Business” column in this weekend’s Cayman Net News includes some wonderful extracts from the Committee’s Minutes.)

McKeeva might also make a point of involving immigrants in all proposals to change the Immigration Law. The present plan to attract rich retirees as immigrants, for instance, is too lame for words. There are thousands of us out here with better ideas than that.