Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Expats Needed? (in Cayman)

When Cayman’s population fell by 4,000 or 6,000 or 10,000 or however many it was, the whole commercial sector suffered from the loss of customers. Every seller of goods and provider of services, every landlord, every car dealership- all were sorry to see them go. Only the hardcore xenophobes were pleased.

When our economic recovery begins, our population will slowly swell again. Some of the incomers will be former residents, and some will be new to Cayman. It will be interesting to see whether our Immigration authorities will change the Immigration Law before then, or keep it unchanged in order to boost the numbers to artificially high levels again.

There is no commercial need to replace all the workers who left. The migrants we have could comfortably take up the slack- if they were allowed to work more than one job at a time, and to switch employers. For practical reasons, that would mean issuing Work Permits in their own names, and that's not likely to happen. After all, both the private and public sectors have built their respective infrastructures in expectation of ever higher numbers of residents; they desperately want a return to the old growth rates.

I can’t see the Immigration people doing anything that would limit the number of expat residents. The Law has always accommodated (within the bounds of propriety- just!) the desire of ethnic Caymanians to own slaves. That’s why Work Permits are issued to employers, not to employees. Restricting migrants to one job each maximises the local population. You do the math.

The Immigration Law and all its amendments (and the Caymanian Protection Law before it) were written by and for the local merchant-class. For them it was win-win: slavery as near as dammit, and the maximum number of bodies to sell things to. Indentured foreign labour keeps wages low for low-skilled Caymanian workers too. That's win-win-win.

For the Immigration authorities, more Permits means more paper-shuffling, which in turn means a bigger bureaucratic empire. Furthermore, Immigration rules forbid unskilled migrants from bringing their domestic partners to Cayman. That's a fourth win, since male migrants constitute a ready market for the prostitutes (amateur and professional) imported and managed by some members of the empire itself. At least, so the marl road has it; and the marl road is fairly reliable on things like that. There was a time when the marl road actually carried the names of the recruiters who visited Central America in search of pretty young “helpers”, and who, uh, ran the necessary road-tests, so to speak.

An unwanted side-effect of the lawmakers' preference for unaccompanied migrants has always been the prevalence of marriages of convenience. Of course mixed-marriages don’t always last, but once a child is born of a union it is rare for the foreign spouse to be deported. Some mixed marriages are bigamous; not every foreign spouse declares the existence of a family back home. Some expats actually dump their expat spouses for Caymanian ones, and some of the second-marriages are suspiciously brief. Again, a child of the union is insurance against early deportation in the event of an early divorce.

All the temporary marriages, the bigamies, the children of convenience, the trafficking of hotties- all are directly attributable to the merchant-class of the '60s and '70s who set out to establish a semi-slavery society, reviving the indentured servitude that replaced slavery in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the years after the Great Emancipation.

The system serves a contemptible purpose, and it is impossible not to despise all those who implement it. What a pity that we can’t find true-born Caymanians with the compassion to change the situation.