LOGB Press Briefing Statement
STATEMENT ON ADMINISTRATIVE GRANTING OF WORK PERMITS AND IMMIGRATION ACCREDITATION SYSTEM
Thursday 29 January 2009
You will recall that in November 2008 I announced that the necessary changes to the law giving effect to the ability to process certain categories of work permits administratively had been made and that the new process would be coming into effect shortly. Since then the Department of Immigration has put in place the new workflow systems, created detailed policy directives for those involved in processing applications and appointed key personnel. I am pleased to tell you today that the first applications under these new arrangements were processed on 5 January 2009. While there is presently only one fully trained Work Permit Administrator (out of an eventual five), over one hundred work permit applications have already been decided administratively. I should point out that the Work Permit Administrator is the central figure in this new process - this is the individual who actually makes the decisions on the applications. It is anticipated that when the full complement of Administrators are fully trained, some five hundred work permit applications will be decided weekly with decisions being dispatched to the applicant on the same day that the decision is made.
While the launch of the administrative system of processing work permits is an extremely important step in improving efficiencies in the way we manage migration, this is not the end of the process. The focus of my statement today is on the next phase - a phase which targets work permit abuse.
The way ahead - employer accreditation
I am sorry to say that the tremendous increase in the number of work permits in effect as a result of the growth we have enjoyed in recent years has also created a significant increase in numbers of immigration offences being committed. This was reflected in the changes that were made to the Immigration Law (2007 Revision) in November 2008 which introduced a number of new offences and granted the Immigration Department the ability to impose fines administratively on offenders without recourse to the Courts. Factors which have contributed to this situation and the need for stricter controls include the large increase in the number of work permits that are now in effect as compared with five years ago; increased evidence of employers acting unscrupulously; increased evidence of employees being treated unfairly by employers; employers failing to comply with statutory pension and health insurance requirements; and employers failing to fulfill their responsibility to recruit, train and provide advancement opportunities to Caymanians.
At present the Immigration Department does not have the resources to verify in each case whether an employer is complying with health and pension laws or other industry-specific statutory requirements. The Department of Employment Relations, the National Pensions Office and the Health Insurance Commission also face similar challenges in ensuring that employers comply with legislative requirements.
At the same time it was recognized that employers who comply fully with all statutory requirements and who have a proven track record of employing Caymanians should be rewarded for this commitment. The challenge therefore was to devise a system which minimizes the opportunity for abuse of immigration and other statutory requirements, and at the same time creates a progressive system of benefits for employers who are compliant in varying degrees. Such a system will weed out bogus employers, thereby eliminating the exploitation of foreign workers, and improve work permit processing times. Employers who attain the higher levels of accreditation will benefit not only from special services with respect to the administrative processing of work permit and other applications, but they will also acquire an excellent reputation within the community as an employer.
Development of proposals for accreditation system
A Task Force chaired by the Chief Immigration Officer and comprised of representatives from the private sector has now completed the initial developmental stages of a system which will require employers to obtain accreditation from the Immigration Department with respect to a number of criteria before they may be granted work permits. On Tuesday the Cabinet gave approval for the new system to be introduced to private sector organizations through a series of work sessions. Feedback received during these sessions will then be reviewed and a final submission made to Cabinet.
In developing its recommendations the Task Force considered how to verify whether an employer is complying with health and pension laws. They also identified the means by which employers will be required to demonstrate their recruitment policy and training programmes with respect to the advancement of Caymanians. It was also necessary to identify how employers who operate their business in full compliance with the laws and who also demonstrate best practice for recruiting, training and retaining Caymanians should be rewarded. As part of this process the Task Force also met with representatives of the Department of Employment Relations, the National Pensions Office and the Health Insurance Commission in order to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face in seeking to ensure compliance with their respective laws.
It was also important to gather ideas and concerns from private sector employers in relation to how the new system might operate and the sorts of requirements that it might entail. To this end the Task Force developed a short, web-based questionnaire which was sent to the Council of Associations for distribution to the represented industry associations and their members. In framing the questions upon which feedback was sought the Task Force also looked closely at similar accreditation systems in place in other countries.
The information received from the regulatory bodies and the data received from the online survey enabled several key decisions to be taken about the system design:
- The system will be called the 'Immigration Accreditation System'. This was considered a more appropriate definition of the system than the earlier proposed title of 'Good Corporate Citizen Programme'.
- The system should allow employers to obtain varying levels ('tiers') of accreditation based on their degree of compliance. While all employers would be required to meet the lowest level before any work permits may be issued, those who exceed the minimum requirements on a consistent basis will receive greater benefits.
- A points system would be used to assess compliance with requirements in order to ensure objectivity in the process.
- Importantly, it was recognized that the application process must be efficient, inexpensive and easy for companies to complete
All non-private employers - in other words all businesses and companies - will be required by law to apply for accreditation with the Immigration Department prior to being granted any work permits. Applications for accreditation will be processed by three teams of Immigration Department personnel. One team will be trained specifically with respect to the financial services industry; another team will be trained with respect to the tourism and hospitality industries; the third team will process applications from all the other industries. Representatives from the relevant industries will assist in initial training of the team members.
After receiving accreditation, employers must apply for its renewal every one to two years. The renewal process will include a review of the company's Business Staffing Plan (if it has one) and the company may be required to undergo a site inspection.
Applications for accreditation will be scored against six core criteria with points being awarded to reflect the degree of compliance. The means of meeting the criteria is to be prescribed with respect to each of the main industries, i.e. financial services, tourism and hospitality, and construction. The six core criteria in general terms are:
- Compliance with statutory licensing requirements;
- for example, Trade & Business License, Liquor License, Builders Licence, Mutual Funds Licence etc.
- in-house training programmes
- the existence of employee and external scholarships for Caymanians
- the number of Caymanians who were promoted in the last 12 months
- the extent of the company's participation in local educational programmes
- whether the company sponsors youth leadership programmes
- Whether the company's pay practices are fair
- The percentage of the company's employees who are Caymanian
- The percentage of Caymanians in managerial positions
- The company's health and safety practices
- The company's disaster preparedness programme
- Whether the company sponsors non-profit organization programmes relating to school literacy, or disability assistance, youth development, counseling, arts and culture, or in relation to environmental preservation
- This heading would also include whether company employees serve on statutory boards
- By this we mean participation in developing business in a particular industry or field that is currently under-developed and desirable in the interests of economic growth.
- This means the extent to which Caymanians are owners of the company and would include evidence of profit sharing.
Tier system and benefits
There will be five levels of accreditation based on the total number of points awarded in the assessment. At the lowest end (which will be called 'probationary accreditation') the employer will have to show that they are largely compliant with statutory requirements. They will be limited however to being able to apply for work permit renewals only.
At tier one level the company must show that they meet all legal requirements and that they have a viable business operation with contracts for services. They will be entitled to apply for work permit grants and renewals but not key employee applications.
At tier two, the requirements are the same as for tier one, but the company must show evidence of talent development programmes, good employment practices and community programmes. They will be entitled to apply for the grant and renewal of work permits and submit key employee applications.
Tiers three and four are where the company is awarded additional points based on their level of participation in programmes relating to talent development and community programmes. Bonus points are also available for business sector and business ownership. Companies in tiers three and four will have work permit decisions made within three working days. They will also have a dedicated Account Manager in the Immigration Department. Applications other than for work permits will be dealt with on an expedited basis though there will be a fee payable for this service.
Tier 5 is the highest level of accreditation. The company will have excellent programmes in place for talent development, excellent employment practices and community involvement programmes. As well as having a dedicated Account Manager, work permit decisions will be guaranteed within three working days. Other applications will be dealt with on an expedited basis without payment of an expedited fee.
Review and compliance
An important element of this process will be to ensure that employers continue to keep up standards after they receive their accreditation. Compliance teams from the Immigration Department will inspect employers on a regular basis. Where an employer is found not to be complying with any of the criteria applicable to their level of accreditation, their status will be reviewed and points may be deducted. If non-compliance reaches the stage where it amounts to a serious breach of the law, the matter will be referred to the Legal Department for possible prosecution. It is proposed that the Immigration Department will also be granted the ability to impose administrative fines for abuses.
With respect to implementation, it is proposed that the new accreditation system will be phased in over a period of months. The majority of the companies falling within the financial services and hospitality industries are already compliant and it is likely that they will be seeking to achieve the top levels of accreditation. They will be given a period of six months to submit their applications. Other companies which are either non-compliant or semi-compliant will need a longer period in which to put their plans in place. They will be given a period of nine months in order to submit their accreditation application. It is also recognized that good employers who are already compliant will be seeking the benefits of tiers three and four as soon as possible and by staggering the deadlines will hopefully avoid the Immigration Department becoming overwhelmed with large numbers of accreditation applications arriving at the same time and the consequent delay in processing times.
Before I finish I would like to make one point quite clear. I mentioned earlier that the Cabinet this week gave approval in principle to the methodology of the proposed system as put forward by the Task Force. I must stress that this is only approval in principle and the plans will now be put out for review and input from the private sector. I go back to what I said in my statement in November last about listening to the needs of the private sector as being critical to weathering the challenges we face in the present economic crisis. It is possible that our private sector partners will object to one or more of the proposals, or they may have better ideas for minimizing work permit abuse. I look forward to receiving their feedback.