(CNS): The government is reviewing section 50 of the immigration law due to an increase in the number of expatriate workers who are job-hopping while still on a work permit without a letter of release from their bosses, according to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson. Following what appears to be a reinterpretation of the law by the immigration boards, permits are being granted to foreign workers while existing permits are still current without the agreement of their original employers, which the DG said was not the intention of the immigration law.
The private member’s motion in the Legislative Assembly was brought by the independent member for North Side Friday. Ezzard Miller asked government to issue a directive to the boards to reinstate the requirements of section 50 or re-write it to address the reinterpretation, which has led to a significant increase in permits being issued in contravention of law. Miller said legal opinion had suggested that the section of the law was not mandatory but discretionary.
Accepting the motion on behalf of the government, Manderson said that non-national workers were never intended to have the same freedom of movement in the local job market as Caymanians, noting that foreign workers, as in most countries, should be regulated. The DG, who is a former chief immigration officer, explained that the provision in the law was to control job-hopping of non-nationals but also to allow in special circumstances for the release of foreign workers who were being victimized by employers or not being paid or mistreated in some way, or where bosses gave permission to move.
“We saw some really scary cases where people needed to be released from their permit,” Manderson said. The control of foreign workers also ensured that local employers were not out-of-pocket after paying to bring workers here and finding the money for permits only to see them walk off the job and go to someone else offering a $1 an hour more. The deputy governor said the law was designed to offer protection for both sides.
But Manderson said government was aware that the law was not being applied consistently or fairly, and said there was some confusion about its continued application. He added that the motion was timely and the matter would be resolved.
He said the chief officer in the ministry of home affairs has asked the attorney general for a definitive opinion on how government should move forward to achieve the vision of protection and stop what amounts to the self-releasing of work permit holders so they can job-hop. Thanking Miller for bringing the motion, he gave an undertaking that the government would address the problem.
Miller said that when he first received complaints that the Business Staffing Board was issuing permits to people who had walked out of an existing permit without a release letter or without ground for special circumstances, he said he thought it was impossible because it was illegal. However, he learned that the law was being reinterpreted and the view of the board was that workers could not be held hostage by bosses refusing to give a letter of release, so the boards must grant the new permits.
“This means that every work permit holder is equal to locals in the job market,” Miller said. But given that permit holders should not have the same freedoms to move around the labour market as Caymanians, he believed the reinterpretation of the law, which was based on legal advice, was wrong.
“I don’t believe any members wish that the situation should continue and we need to change the wording of the law, the regulations or issue a directive to return section 50 and stop expat job-hopping and protect employers as well as Caymanian workers.”
Welcoming the review, Miller said he understood that government was in a “ticklish position” when it comes to work permits because of its dependence on the revenue it collects and the lobbying force of powerful corporations, but he urged the deputy governor to address the situation quickly because Caymanians were feeling that their government was letting them down. He said there were growing numbers of qualified and educated locals who cannot get work, and warned again of the potential for revolution if it remained hard for them to find jobs.
Asking government to uphold the law, Miller said, “Every job in the Cayman Islands should go to a Caymanian unless an employer can clearly demonstrate that he can’t find a Caymanian.”
Lamenting the constant changes in legislation to facilitate those who come here and not to support “our own people”, Miller asked for the matter to be dealt with urgently and to put an end to the reliance on the misguided legal opinion that he said had diluted section 50 of the law.