Cayman bar chief takes aim at immigration law

| 12/01/2017 | 52 Comments

(CNS): Abraham Thoppil, the president of the Caymanian Bar Association, which represents around 245 local lawyers, has said that the immigration law is failing both expatriates and Caymanians and is desperate need of a “drastic overhaul”. Speaking at the opening of the courts Wednesday, Thoppil said the immigration regime “inadequately serves both the needs and legitimate expectations of Caymanians and those of the many foreign workers”, and criticised the inconsistencies in applying the law and defining a Caymanian.

He warned that the consequences of this had an impact on a diverse range of issues, from whether a child may benefit from free medical treatment to ownership of local businesses.

Immigration is not a problem unique to the Cayman Islands, he said, noting the recent political shifts in both Europe and the United States that have been influenced by immigration issues. However, he pointed out that those affected by immigration control are entitled to expect the “legislative scheme to be underpinned by a coherent view of its meaning and the policy behind them”.

In his address, Thoppil said that the majority of CBA members supported the latest draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill, which is expected to be debated when the Legislative Assembly meets early this year, but he questioned whether it could protect local lawyers from unfair treatment, perceived marginalization or foreign domination of the profession.

Heading an organisation formed to try to do just that, Thoppil said efforts had delivered mixed results, making the damning comment: “We cannot yet say that talent and hard work will take a Caymanian to the pinnacle of legal career. In some instances prospects are defeated simply because the quality of post qualification training for Caymanian lawyers may not be possible to the standards available elsewhere. In other cases, the barriers may be even less palatable,” he added, without going into detail.

He said that arguments would continue about the limited ascension of local lawyers into true equity partnership and whether it was a “natural consequence of a limited talent pool” or the inadequate enforcement of the law.

Thoppil pointed out that while the immigration law was failing Caymanians, the immigration regime was also not providing recognition or protection to many hundreds of expatriates — a veiled reference to the permanent residency controversies and the failure on the part of government to address the legal questions surrounding the PR point system.

“The implications for them, their families, our society and our wider economy are potentially extremely negative,” he said, as he expressed his hope that the New Year would bring relief and see this part of the immigration regime functioning again.

He said the ever-controversial Legal Practitioners Law would not resolve all the issues facing Caymanian lawyers, and pointed to the challenges facing local lawyers to gain the experience they need to progress, as technology is enabling firms here to be increasingly dependant on British lawyers, a situation that needed to be addressed.

“The problem is aggravated by an increasing dependence on the English Bar, even in cases where there are local alternatives and litigation departments have sound and capable lawyers. Video conferencing increasingly allows control to be overseas, with Cayman attorneys sometimes marginalized to the point they can add little value,” he said.

“With no real price penalty, Silks are doing from their chambers interlocutory matters that could be done here by locals. There are widespread fears that we are training a profession of solicitors and of a self-fulfilling prophesy of Cayman lawyers being unequal to compete in advocacy.”

Thoppil warned that this would have dire long-term consequences for the profession and the future recruitment of local judges. He said that while the court pushed back, there has been one recent case where the parties announced that their counsel would appear by video link.

“This is symptomatic of a mindset here and in London. Not so gradually, that scenario is becoming commonplace and, unless challenged, it may become the norm,” he warned, adding that it was a policy issue that must be addressed to save the local profession.

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Comments (52)

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  1. Cayman fan says:

    How can a native population of 25 to 30 thousand people possibly supply the number of lawyers required to service the offshore banking and business transactions that take place in the Cayman Islands? – and the criminal and traffic legal issues raised by an additional 30 thousand resident expats and tourists also on the islands at any given point in time?

    The western European average IQ level is at 100. 90 per cent of that populataion is less intelligent than the 120 point IQ level required to function as a lawyer. Do the math. 30 thousand native Caymanians, times 10 percent is only 3000 people. If you subtract from that group, of 3000 high IQ Caymanians, the kids who are too young, the elders who are too old, and the high IQ Caymanians who go abroad to work, or who chose other high cognition lines of work, there are only a limited number of suitable Caymanians availible to function as lawyers.*

    Those off shore transactions and legal issues pump a great deal of money into Cayman. The expat lawyers here to service that off shore business leave a great deal of money in Cayman from the duty taxes and fees they pay while here. If you choke off the supply of persons who are available to work in those area, you will also choke off the off shore business too. Don’t kill the goose laying the golden eggs.

    * Please note that above IQ calculation is based on the premise that the average native Caymanian IQ is about 100 points, as in Europe and the USA. It may be lower or higher.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And if you do not suck and are literally a victim of lies and frauds, including to regulators?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The thing is that clients don’t much care which brand name is at the bottom of the lawyer’s email signature. Good lawyers attract clients willing to pay good money. That’s why partners and entire teams have moved between law firms and taken their clients with them.

    At the same time a law firm is not a capital intensive business to set up. You could set one up in your bedroom.

    So, if these Caymanian lawyers are so gifted why not just set up your own law firm, go and get your own clients and make your millions? That’s how it works everywhere else in the world.

    And if the brand names are so critical that is because someone else did a lot of hard work to make that happen. No one, Caymanian or expat, is naturally entitled to step into the ownership of that brand any more than a hairdresser is entitled to equity in the salon or a waiter is entitled to equity in the restaurant.

    If promoting someone would add value to the firm, they would do it. If it would not, why should they? And if promoting them would add value but the firm doesn’t, let them leave and add that value at another firm.

    Let the law firms do what they have to in order to thrive. They are at the top of the chain of service providers that most other financial service providers merely dangle on.

    It would be a great disservice to all Caymanians to hold the law firms back with misguided protectionism designed to benefit a minuscule number of Caymanians that as senior associates already stand to make significantly more than Chief Officers and CEOs.

  4. MM says:

    The topic of expats being chosen over Caymanians is always a heated one – but what us Caymanians refuse to admit are the reasons some employers simply prefer expat employees.

    Our Government has encouraged our country to become “Global” – we boast of our “internationally” recognized financial industry and take pride in becoming the world’s preferred center for banking and legal services.

    Our Government has invested enormous amounts of time and money to bring this country up to such a status by revising laws (under the recommendation of the “stakeholders” of the said laws – whether that be lawyers, employers or financial services professionals).

    The reality is, the average Caymanian cannot understand and decipher the laws and rarely do we provide any relevant feedback in our own defense and therefore things that can drastically affect us are overlooked and we are at the mercy of the many expat-operated or managed “stakeholders” that do have the experience and education to even run circles around our MLAs when it comes to legal policy.

    The international law firms and financial institutions that our Gov has spent years wooing and satisfying have ensured that any amendments to laws they rely on are polished in a way to ensure that there is no or minimal interruption to their operation.

    These same companies rely on the global experience that a work permit holder will bring here with them after working years in places like Canada, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Panama, Brazil, Guernsey, etc – in particular expat employees with such experience would certainly take precedence over a local for certain positions.

    The thing is, whilst there are expat persons on island with a “get rid of the Indians” mentality – there are far more that are simply here trying to make a living and provide a happy home for their families, they want what every Caymanian wants too and we are all humans trying to live a comfortable successful life. I often stress that the greatest success this country has even had was when expats and Caymanians worked together in all things.

    Business, on the other hand, does not see “people” – it sees employees.

    Regardless of how many great staff functions and gifts of appreciation a business may dish out each year – it is all to ensure your compliance and devotion to the “brand”. (And, believe me, when your salary is set all considerations have already been made on what additional expenses the company will incur for you to attend their annual staff party, the office happy hour or even the amount of water you will drink and your salary is set accordingly.) In other words, if you were to get $75k per year, your contract may be set to $73k to consider any additional anticipated expenses that may arise for the company from your employment.

    Human RESOURCES, are simply that, an employee is a RESOURCE. Like any other resource, like a pen or computer, you are there to do a job to make the company you work for profitable. It does not matter if you are Caymanian or expat, companies do not intentionally exclude Caymanians, they simply must ensure that whoever is in the position is the best for the job.

  5. Nunya says:

    Caymanian lawyers Caymanian lawyers Caymanian lawyers – what about the rest of professions that Caymanians are going in debt to attain and come home with still no opportunities to employment.
    “…while the immigration law was failing Caymanians, the immigration regime was also not providing recognition or protection to many hundreds of expatriates…” this statement alone demonstrates that the expats are the priority in this country. While I understand their situation, I think it should be pointed out that any persons coming here for employment understand or should understand that there is the potential that they may not be granted the right to reside her permanently. Why is that a hard pill to swallow? It not a foreign concept to the countries they come from. Just as it is not a foreign concept that the locals will want to preserve their way of life and protect jobs for the national first. We are far smaller than most of the countries that the expats are coming from so why shouldn’t we fiercely protect our country for overpopulation and preserve the way of life that we know and like and that has attracted everyone here in the first place?
    Yes there is a lot of undeveloped land here – but seriously how much more do you think our infrastructure can take. Without a proper plan for development we really need to take a close look at how easily we allow not only expats to become citizens, but how many we allow to come here to work. The dump alone is an example of poor future planning – one thing affects the other. Our schools is another. I could go on – but I hope I’ve made my point.

    • Anonymous says:

      All the statement correctly acknowledges is that all persons legally resident in the Cayman Islands have rights, and that neither Caymanians nor expatriates are receiving the benefits of them..

    • Anonymous says:

      You must understand these people do not care if the island die or live, read there history and follow the blood and tears.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, but what are the issues for expat lawyers exactly? Are there any statistics available how many have been denied residency or Cayman status?

    In my experience (having worked in this field for almost 20 years), they usually get around any immigration issues by shipping them off to another office of their law firm (Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, London etc) and then ask them to return two years later, so the potential roll over issue has fallen away.

    The real issue here is that law firms don’t like to deal with Caymanian lawyers because they can’t be held hostage with a work permit.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Anyone with half a brain can see right through this. All of these issues will be no more, the day Cayman becomes like the other Caribbean islands. Then, they will be breaking their necks to get out and move on, leaving their “Cayman Status” at the door.

    • Anonymous says:

      So right history history history no matter what they say history don’t lie, but all we can do is love them don’t hate them, Trump will take care of everybody including us.
      What is happening to us is nothing look at India, Africa, the Middle east, the American Indian look around you do you think we are any different.
      When we are suck dry they will move on to another and me or you can’t stop it.
      Just live your life and let live, the God that they hate still love them and so should we.

  8. just asking says:

    Who is coming for the benefits of the Cayman people they all come to get their own benefits. As a caymanian when you are asked where you are from tell them somewhere else and see what they will say about the born caymanian especially when alcohol talks.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thing is the boys could care less about anyone but themselves and how they can best feather there own nest.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What issues facing Caymanian lawyers?

    • Anonymous says:

      The mediocre ones want to earn money as if they were talented ones.

      • Anonymous says:

        The talented ones want to too.

        • Anonymous says:

          They do already. So do many of the mediocre ones.

          • Token Caymanian says:

            So every expat lawyer is a specialist or expert when the arrive in Cayman? The opportunities they are given on arrival is what usually is the difference in career progression.

            There are some very average expats attorneys who come to Cayman. Color matters where they went to university matters three years PQE is nothing. So please please it a break there is clear discrimination of Caymanian attorneys in the profession. Those who advance usually change their accent and take on a new Anglophile personality to try and fit in while hating on their own local people. The “Uncle Tom” mentality is rewarded. Look at the big firms and see which Caymanians have advanced. There is a formula one must be willing to sell out and ki$$ a$$ of their new Caymanian boss who holds nothing but contempt for other Caymanians. They are economic migrants and Caymanians by convenience who play the Caymanian card to satisfy immigration requirements. Very few legitimate love and respect Caymanians and our way of life.

            Most expat attorneys would never make it to partner or reap the financial rewards if they had remained in their home jurisdiction. Racism and discrimination is real at every level in the profession from corporate assistant, legal secretary, paralegal, article clerk, associate, senior associate to partnership level. This is common in most professions in the Cayman Islands.

            He who feels it knows it.

            • Anonymous says:

              Well said!

            • Anonymous says:

              Of course the ones that come down are second tier in London, but the UK has 55 million people many of whom receive a world class education. Cayman law is about as simple and basic as it gets and one can get up to speed in a month or two in most areas of work. Clients far prefer someone with an Oxbridge background to someone educated from the University of Liverpool, so the prejudice you complain of it objectively justified and drives profits. If Caymanians choose to receive a third rate legal education whose problem is that? Their own. I checked, Liverpool is ranked 38th in the UK below places I had did not know even had a law school. Stop blaming others, if a Caymanian is good enough and has shown the guile to get a decent branded education then there is nowhere easier in the world to get rich as a lawyer. The festering self pity in your post sums up the biggest problem in the legal services market.

          • Anonymous says:

            Really? Name a Caymanian equity partner who has been made a partner of a major law firm and I will show you an expat granted status. That position could not realistically exist if law firms were consistently playing fair with Caymanian lawyers.

            • Anonymous says:

              Do you really want the list to start because the biggest law firms have lots of Caymanians heading them up…

              • Anonymous says:

                Yes. I want a list. I dare you. Give the same one they give to immigration and other regulators. Let’s test its veracity.

              • Anonymous says:

                Status holders not born Caymanians bobo.

                The real Caymanians have been pawns who did nothing to help their own kind e.g. Wayne Panton at Walkers

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, I dunno. Maybe they are upset that they cannot get opportunities in overseas offices. Maybe they are upset that the requirement to have a practising certificate to practice Cayman Law is ignored. Maybe they are upset that their applications for positions are not in fact uniformly revealed to immigration, as required by law. Maybe they are upset that large numbers of foreign nationals are working outside of their immigration permissions with impunity. Maybe they are upset that persons overseas who may not even be Cayman lawyers are controlling the firms they work for, potentially in breach of Cayman law. Maybe they are upset that promises of quality training and opportunity do not materialize. Maybe they are upset at being culturally ostracized in their own land. Maybe they are upset at foreign nationals who have not trained or qualified in Cayman Law breaking it, even if unintentionally. Maybe they are upset at clients and regulators being told they are partners, when they are not. Maybe they are upset at being given work of a lesser quality than expatriate counterparts. Maybe they are upset at carrying an excessive burden in training. Maybe they are upset at working with some people who openly disparage their country. Maybe they are upset at not having access to the best quality support staff. Maybe they are upset that the fact they went to the local law school is held against them, for no good reason. Maybe.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Finally, the CBA comes out swinging on behalf of Caymanians, particularly young Caymanians, “real” Caymanians if you’ll forgive the terms, people born here or born elsewhere to Caymanian parents who aren’t used to life in the big wide world, haven’t been raised by parents who know it – crucially – and can’t for all their will compete on equal terms with people who received top-flight training elsewhere. Even those who marched to the UK, dozens at a time, on the advice of senior expatriate lawyers who told them ‘you’ll never understand a law firm until you understand England’, who got their degrees, did their chosen postgraduate course and came back to Cayman expecting to find the same country they left, where Caymanians got the benefit of the doubt, and were left out in the cold. I know more people whose firms reneged on the promises to train them than did not. I do not know a single fully qualified young Caymanian lawyer who has not either moved firms or moved offices within the same firm. There is still no sensitivity whatsoever to the fact that there are two courses on offer in the UK, the LPC and the BPTC and articled clerks who have taken one or the other should have their training focused accordingly. Management of firms all over the island are lazy and complacent about these issues because they are not affected by them; they came out here offering puffed up CVs hiding mediocrity where they previously practised in many cases, now many a tax-free fortune and couldn’t care less. I’ve heard it with my own ears: why should I train a Caymanian, someone I have nothing in common with including any economic interest, when I came here to make partner more quickly and make a lot of money and any time I give to a Caymanian is skin off my back? Why would I rationally do that? Until the profession finds the answer to that question, these issues will never go away.

    • Anonymous says:

      The expats just have to keep the sham alive for 8 years. Once they apply for PR or choose to go and illegally practice Cayman law elsewhere, the Caymanian they were working with is discarded. Our government knows this and does nothing. They are accomplices in what has happened.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Blame it on immigration but don’t forget the law firms are the ones circumventing the immigration law and this 2016 Bill gives them power to do so under that law! Do you want us to believe that these firms who are circumventing the law and have now drafted the LPB have Cayman’s best interests at heart???!

    • Anonymous says:

      Of course they do not have Cayman’s best interests at heart. Time and time again they have proved their aim is to help themselves often at the expense of Caymanians who welcomed them. Immigration turned a blind eye to overt abuses and did nothing. Damn them all.

      • Anonymous says:

        When will you learn that lawyers from any country are only in it for themselves, they are pond life, always have been, always will be.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Its high time we change our immigration law again. The PR application delay is an absolute mess. I really hope that our Island won’t have an influx of none vetted persons being granted mass status again.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sorry to say but because of this government (the premier) mess up, it is legally inevitable that we will. 🙁

  14. Anonymous says:

    More comeuppance and backfire from years of under-qualified and imprudent political scheming.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The government needs to clearly state that the country does not need and new Caymanian or permanent residents and let that be the policy of the country. While I don’t agree with that position personally at least things would be clear for all involved.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Very well said Mr. Thoppil. Like the child in the story you have had the integrity and fortitude to point out what so many can plainly see – that the Emperor has no clothes!

    • Anonymous says:

      It would be good if this were a fairytale but unfortunately the government has led the Caymanian people, however they are defined, straight into a legal, economic and social nightmare!

      • Anonymous says:

        True – there are few things scarier than Alden parading naked, cloaked in the trappings of foreverhonorableness and pretending he has all under control when in fact all around him is disintegrating. I do have to acknowledge that Mac parading naked could be worse.

      • Anonymous says:

        You are so right!

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, a nightmare of wealth and easy professional advancement.

        • Anonymous says:

          I believe you are confused the wealth is jealously guarded by the old boys club who may have been granted status but otherwise look down on caymanians even where they are hard working intelligent and more deserving than their British/Australian counterparts

          • Anonymous says:

            Hmm, no proof of that comment I see. Sadly second rate is just that, second rate. If Caymanians are so intelligent, why have they let this place be destroyed by their own incompetence, why can’t you recruit more than 7 individuals for your police service and why do you need so many expats to pick up the slack?
            What you believe to be intelligent and competent sadly fails the test against other country’s standards, the sooner you learn that lesson, the sooner Cayman can move on.

            • 1 PQE Caymanian lawyer says:

              The only mistake we made was to let so many of you in so quickly, on the advice of others like you who saw profit for themselves in taking this happy, simple place and turning it into somewhere that, as the CJ said at the opening of court for the year, has a remarkably high divorce rate for its size and where all people do is tell each other fine thanks and busy how about you. Within the same generation all of this change has happened. I am not even 30 and the population has tripled in my lifetime. You think Caymanians evolve faster than any other type of human? That we should be forever “second rate” in our own country because people from countries which dwarf ours arrive here at the same PQE level with more intricately networked brains obtained by accident of their own birth in such much larger country which has had its culture evolve over hundreds if not thousands of years? Do you people just not understand the fundamental reality: Caymanians should profit from Cayman! Especially if they do EVERYTHING they actually CAN DO to reach the top? Abraham said it himself, we cannot yet say that talent and hard work takes a Caymanian to equity partnership. What more could possibly be needed? Yet every equity partner you could ever ask this question to would tell you I am talented and worked hard and that’s why I am where I am. If he’s feeling charitable he’ll admit the luck he had when the chap above him got shipped off to another office and he ended up with the firm’s best client (you know who you are if you’re reading, but I know you aren’t) or something like that, but most of them won’t; they only want you to see them at the top and assume they earned it (and in a way you, “second rate Caymanian”, could not even appreciate). Abraham admitted (and he is a partner at Maples, the firm that should be able to do this the best as it’s the biggest) that it may be simply impossible to train lawyers as well here as well as big city firms do. That makes us “second rate” as people and potential partners? I suppose now you’ll tell me if we weren’t “second rate” we’d have trained in the UK or wherever else those people did? Which, if you did, would show you to be ignorant of the fact that Caymanians love their country, and although this generation has a sense of adventure that deregulated air travel has made much easier to indulge, would always want to return home anyway eventually? The fact that we don’t get on the big bird to London with a plan to live there – we go there wondering how much things cost in pounds for starters, and are not highlighting our way through guidebooks about how to get a training contract at Slaughter & May from day one of law school or are even told by anyone that is what we should be doing? That the ambitious among us start summer jobs in professional offices as soon as we become teenagers (13 in my case) while the expat partners past present and future of Cayman Islands firms would have been holding house parties while their parents went to Spain? That if we do EVERYTHING to qualify as an attorney in another country, we are insulting our own and losing touch with it? That many find the pace doesn’t agree with them, and why would it when they’ve grown up under palm trees? And for all that and much more it’s unreasonable for us to expect to eventually obtain some real money and status, the kind that expats drive past us and that we drive past on either side of the road every day? You really think we should just accept all those realities, iniquities and inequities are the natural consequence of our inherent inadequacy? What a piece of work you must be. Why are you even a lawyer as I suspect you may be? You should go back in time and get an FCO posting to somewhere in Africa, you’d be even better than first rate at that. Your attitude sickens me, and trust me buddy, if you wanted to debate this in person, you would find me to be very far from “second rate”. Why don’t we just throw you all out using our control over the political system and step straight into management and full equity? What are the firms going to do? Close? You won’t be here to close them, you’ll be on a plane faster than you can print all the dismissal letters and get all of us into the meeting room next to the fire escape. Go think all of this over a little more my friend; you might arrive at another view that shows you to have a sense of common humanity and decency – and some awareness of where this inequity could eventually lead if this attitude sticks around much longer and continues to be the only thing that really informs who goes where in the legal profession in, repeat after me, the Cayman Islands, the place where Caymanians should prosper if nowhere else.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t be so quick to praise at 11:23am….many speak from 2 sides of the mouth!

      • Anonymous says:

        He said it publicly and under full scrutiny of the press, the judiciary, his colleagues and his employers. He is worthy of acknowledgment, and praise. What did you do?

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