Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Jamaican work permit holders in Cayman face deadline

Published:Saturday | September 26, 2020 | 12:05 AMGlenda Anderson/Staff Reporter

Scores of Jamaican work permit holders in Grand Cayman could be heading home soon as a reprieve from immigration authorities, due to the coronavirus pandemic, expires at end of October.

The island’s Customs and Border Control (CBC)reported on Thursday, September 24, that its ‘Overstayer Amnesty’ will come to an end on October 31, after which the unit would resume its compliance checks and persons found in breach may be subject to fines and/or prosecution.

In April, following extensions to the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, ‘workers whose term limit expired before and during lockdown were allowed to continue working for their employers in the same occupation’ without fear of being prosecuted, a representative from Cayman’s Ministry of Employment & Border Control noted in response to Gleaner queries, emphasising that this, though, was not a general offer to all workers.“The number of Jamaicans this directive relates to is 202,” the ministry noted.

Pressed on the future of those workers at the end of the month, the representative said: “They would have had to have applied for permanent residency before their term limit expired. If this wasn’t submitted then after ..., they would be considered visitors and would have to leave the island for a year (essentially being rolled over) before trying to come back on another work permit.”

A release from the island’s Customs and Border Control and Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) on Thursday encouraged persons who have overstayed due to COVID-19 to take the necessary steps to get regularised before it ends.

It notes that CBC counters will open on October 1 and their new online system will launch with visitors being able to apply and pay for extensions. It advised that persons who were already scheduled to depart the island before October 31 , should not seek an extension before leaving.

Additionally, those persons whose work permits have been cancelled, or will not be renewed, were advised to take advantage of suitable repatriation flights offered by Cayman Airways or British Airways and to make the necessary reservations directly with either carrier.

NOT A SHUTOUT

But Jamaica’s Vice-Consul to the Cayman Islands, Elaine Harris, said the move has not been taken as a shutout, and Jamaicans have pivoted well.

“Persons are generally appreciative of all that the Cayman government has been trying to do to manage the COVID-19 spread and resulting concerns. For foreign nationals, this includes the extension granted to essential work permit holders, allowing non-Caymanians to access government aide during the lockdown, and allowing persons access to an early pension withdrawal.”

Consulate information obtained from WORC shows Jamaican work permits total 9,938, which does not include persons with permanent residency. The total number of persons with Jamaican citizenship in the Cayman Islands was shown as 17,518. Harris said 1,061 Jamaican nationals departed the Cayman Islands since April 2020; however, the total figures do not necessarily represent persons directly impacted by COVID-19 and runs a gamut of reasons. This includes family emergencies, retirements, returning residents, medical, etc.

ANXIOUS TO RETURN HOME

Madge*, a domestic helper employed in Georgetown, Grand Cayman since 2011, says she is looking to return home as early as October or November.

“I can’t wait. I plan to go home – I’m just waiting to hear from Jamaica to get a ticket and get on a flight.

“A lot of people here are just waiting on a flight to go home, but some countries and planes are not going out, but they (immigration) not troubling anyone. You can stay without permits until they open up. By next month they will be opening up immigration, so we can go to get time,” she said.

Madge says that under normal operations, persons with work permits on the island were allowed to work for a period of nine years, then allowed to return to their country before being eligible to reapply for a work permit.

“We get nine years’ permit when it finish, we break for a year then put in another permit.”

She said the decision to have persons work unhindered throughout even though their permits had expired was welcome, but the inconvenience of being shut in had been frustrating. Madge added that the lockdown had put a damper on activities for many persons. “Not even church was open, I don’t go anywhere.”

Her husband, Paul*, a driver employed to a local business, will stay behind as his tenure expires much later, but Madge has no plans to stay.

“I need a break, and I need to spend some time with my son in Jamaica.”

An earlier government release indicated that Cayman Airways would continue to operate, with flights to Jamaica set for September 2, 16, and 30, while others are to be scheduled as needed.

The island is scheduled to begin a phased reopening in October.

* Names changed upon request

glenda.anderson@gleanerjm.com