Friday, April 27, 2012

Cold and impersonal (Cayman's Immigration Monster)

Besides writing my blogs once or twice a week, I also post brief informational items in several Web forums about aspects of life in Cayman – employment in Cayman, healthcare in Cayman, censorship in Cayman, starting a business in Cayman, all that sort of thing. I give prospective residents (and whoever else reads them) a true picture of Cayman, the bad with the good, so that they have a realistic basis on which to make further enquiries. I explained that in a February blog “Cayman – warts and all”.

The main bad news I have for readers is that new residents won’t be made welcome by the authorities. Our Immigration Monster – the law, the policies, the bureaucrats and the enforcers (political-crony Boards and Committees) – goes out of its way to keep expats in a box, as it has done since the early '80s. Before then, a person could come to Cayman on spec, find a job one day and start it the following Monday if not sooner.

The whole society benefitted from that informality. Employers didn’t have to waste time and effort jumping through hoops of flame; new expats hit the ground running; native Caymanians enjoyed giving hospitality to strangers. No Caymanian was disadvantaged. On the contrary, the economic boom opened up new opportunities for a community whose economy had for centuries been limited to fishing, dirt-farming and a bit of rope-thatching. Cayman’s message to the world was one of laid-back friendliness. Expats were welcome, then. And so they should have been. After all, the native Caymanians were all descended from immigrants; there were never any indigenous people.

But the welcome faded away as our numbers grew. Today, two thirds of the whole population were born in some foreign land. Today, the Work Permit process is cold and impersonal. For most private-sector employers, it involves a frustrating battle with a bureaucracy whose terms of reference require it to micro-manage all personnel deployments in the private sector. Bloodline Caymanians must be hired and promoted with little regard for their ability or aptitude compared with expat applicants'.

Besides the inefficiencies inherent in such a system, the process encourages doubt as to the abilities of all Caymanians who occupy high positions in any field. Protectionism pays political dividends, but it causes expats in general to have little respect for Caymanians at managerial level or above. The Immigration juggernaut is designed to assuage the anti-expat resentment that flourishes in the hearts of a regrettably large proportion of the native-Caymanian population. In my second-ever posting on this blog, in November 2010, I described a “cargo cult” mentality. Any overseas reader (or local reader, come to that) trying to understand the local xenophobia will gain by reading it.

The good news about Cayman is that once expats are living here, and working for a good boss, life is very good. Who wouldn’t like living here? Wages are excellent except for the domestic help, and the expat community is so diverse that it provides something for everybody. Expats of all nationalities and classes (including the domestic help) like the place so much that the native-born have erected barriers to residence beyond seven years. After that period one must leave the Islands for twelve months, in order to break the continuity period. This “rollover” policy was covered by a blog of mine this last June. That’s worth checking out, if you’re looking for a long-term job here.

Life is good for foreign retirees here, too, as long as they don’t mind leaving the islands every few months. Permanent domicile is available for billionaires, but there probably won’t be all that many of them reading these words. Warren, you can give me a call and I’ll see what I can do for you; but please, nobody else.