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Cayman Islands Immigration Information - Work Permit


Work permit regulations is strict in the Cayman Islands to ensure that the locals and their dependants are given preference for any position, and this can be something of a minefield for the uninitiated.

The rules present some unique hurdles to the expatriate job-seeker and a basic understanding of this process is required to set the employment market in context and to avoid finding yourself in a position that is improvident at best and disastrous at worst.

Unless contracted to Government, expatriates must hold a valid work permit in order to work and reside in the Cayman Islands. The administration of work permits is the responsibility of the Cayman Islands Government Department of Immigration (commonly referred to simply as 'Immigration'). There is also an understandable emphasis on the training of local staff to ensure that they have an opportunity to develop their skills. The onus is on the employer to demonstrate to Immigration that the position cannot be filled by a Caymanian. In order to do so, the employer must first advertise the position locally and also register the vacancy with the Department of Employment Relations, which, among many other responsibilities, assists local people in finding employment. Only after all efforts to recruit locally have failed can the employer rightfully justify a work permit application. This process must be repeated periodically (usually annually) depending on the employer's circumstances.

Work permits can take several months to process. Temporary work permits (for 3 to 6 months) can be granted much faster but are generally discouraged in favour of full (i.e. one year) permits and should therefore be used only in exceptional circumstances. An eight month tourism permit is currently being discussed which would span the high season, after which the worker would have to leave the Island.

Note that a work permit is granted for a specific position with a specific employer. This means that a work permit holder is not entitled to work in any other capacity on the Islands and any significant changes to the person's role within the organisation must be approved by Immigration.

Also, if you want to switch employer and take up employment with a different company on the Island, your current employer must provide a letter to Immigration releasing you from your work permit. You should therefore be doubly sure that any position is right for you before committing to a long-term contract. Once in employment, you should take some time to consider your situation before your employer applies for your work permit renewal, as you are effectively bound to them from the time of application until the expiry of the permit, unless the permit is cancelled at the employer's request.

It is unlikely an employer will be granted a work permit unless:

a) the applicant is professionally qualified or very well experienced in a relevant field, or
b) there is literally no interest in the position from the local workforce (which is actually fairly common).

This creates something of a dilemma for those expatriates without a professional qualification. The better the position, the higher the level of interest from the local workforce and the less likely it is that an expatriate will be granted a work permit.

There are certain occupations that, understandably, hold little appeal for Caymanian job-seekers. These are mainly positions that offer little job security, irregular or anti-social hours of work, or a somewhat unpredictable or unreliable income stream. Examples of such lines of work are office temping, nursing, construction, food and beverage service and most commission-based sales positions.

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