1. In broad terms what is your government's policy towards business immigration?
Cayman government policy is to be as receptive as practicable towards business immigration. The importation of talent and labour to grow and expand the Cayman economy and its standing in terms of global financial services and other international business is central to the government's ambition. Some protection of the local workforce is maintained in areas where there are sufficient Caymanians and legal residents available to fill the needs of a particular industry. Although not necessarily bound by every aspect, policy is conducted in a manner consistent with international treaty obligations with particular reference to obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. Breaches of legislation are enforced, most often by way of an administrative fine. There is in place a clear policy of attempting to work constructively with businesses operating in the Cayman Islands to resolve difficulties, leaving prosecution as a last resort.
2. In what circumstances is a visa necessary for short-term travellers? How are short-term visas obtained?
Generally, every foreign national working in the Cayman Islands must be in possession of a work permit or other express permission. This requirement can extend to individuals who are travelling for short periods of time depending on the type of activities they will be engaged in while in the Cayman Islands and the length of time that they remain there. Persons travelling to the Cayman Islands to conduct a wide range of specific activities for a short period are exempted from any requirement to have a work visa, provided they remain for less than seven days. Such activities include attending meetings or trade fairs and making purchases from Cayman businesses, attending conferences and seminars as an ordinary participant, and receiving training and techniques on work practices employed in the Cayman Islands.
Where a transferee is engaged in exempted activities for in excess of seven days, or otherwise working in a non-exempt capacity, he or she must be in possession of a business visitor's permit or a temporary work permit.
A business visitor's permit may be obtained in respect of any person carrying on business in or from within the Cayman Islands regularly throughout the year on a temporary basis. A single application can be made to the chief immigration officer for the issue, in each calendar year, for one or more business visitor's permits and for more than one visit. The application must include details such as the maximum number of times that each person wishes to be admitted to the Cayman Islands, his or her occupation and the maximum duration of each stay. This type of visa is issued for no more than 14 days on any one visit.
A temporary work permit allows an individual to engage in gainful occupation in the Cayman Islands for a maximum of six months. Such permissions are obtained by application to the chief immigration officer, or his or her designate, and cannot be extended or renewed beyond six months, save by transition to a full work permit. The application is a fairly straightforward process and with the payment of an expedited fee can be processed within 48 hours from the date of submission.
Persons in possession of an appropriate work visa need not possess any other type of visa to enter the Cayman Islands. However, various nationalities (including persons from India and China) require visas to travel to the Cayman Islands. These visas can be sought from any British embassy and, in rare circumstances and by prior arrangement, can be sought from and granted by the local authorities on arrival.
3. What are the main restrictions on a business visitor?
Unless exempted, any person arriving at the Cayman Islands and engaging in gainful occupation requires either a business visitor's permit or a temporary work permit, unless they are expressly exempted from these requirements.
The expectation is that exempted persons in the Cayman Islands for short periods would be remunerated overseas. There is no restriction on the manner in which such persons are remunerated, although plainly there is an expectation that they have a suitable accommodation and other benefits available to them while visiting. The Cayman government is likely to shortly introduce minimum wage legislation, which would seek to ensure that no person working in the Cayman Islands receives remuneration totalling less than CI$5 per hour by way of basic wage.
If a business visitor is to remain for more than one week or is going to engage in an activity that does not fall within an exemption they will be required to have a business visitor's permit or a temporary work permit. Restrictions as to the length of stay depend on the type of permit obtained. The type of work conducted must be within the description for which approval was given.
A business visitor's permit must be for more than one visit. The application process will establish the occupation and maximum duration of stay of each business visitor during each business visit. No single visit on such a permit can extend beyond 14 days.
Alternatively, temporary work permits of three or six months' duration are available. These, save in exceptional circumstances, must be applied for by a Cayman employer. Temporary work permits can be extended, but in no case may the total period under which the person remains on a temporary work permit for a particular employer exceed six months. A temporary work permit holder can however be the subject of an application for a full (annual) work permit. In rare circumstances, the chief immigration officer will grant self-employed work permits to individuals coming to the Cayman Islands to perform a discrete task for a limited period of time, particularly where there is no competition with existing established businesses.
Persons possessing immigration permission to work in the Cayman Islands are not generally subject to any minimum period of stay. Full (annual or multi-year) work permits are generally only granted to persons who demonstrate that they are, or intend to be, resident in the Cayman Islands. However, this is no bar to travelling frequently or indeed spending most of the year outside the Cayman Islands attending to international business or other matters. It is the Cayman government's policy to strongly encourage persons to base international business from within the Cayman Islands and accordingly, particularly for more senior individuals, there is an expectation that substantial amounts of time may be spent outside the Cayman Islands. Nevertheless, the Cayman Islands must generally be considered as home to persons operating under full work permits.
At present (and subject to reconsideration) there is a term limit policy in play, which generally dictates that work permits cannot be renewed for more than seven years (in respect of a worker) or nine years (in respect of a key employee).
There are in any event numerous exceptions to the term limits policy. Skilled professionals and management level employees in particular are provided with numerous means by which to apply for and obtain key employee designation (even prior to first coming to the Cayman Islands) and thereby be assured of an opportunity, upon reaching eight years of legal and ordinary residence in the Cayman Islands, to apply for permanent residence with the right to work, in place of a multi-year work permit. Upon such permission being granted, a residency and employment rights certificate is issued and such persons are entitled to continue to work indefinitely, provided annual fees continue to be paid, or alternatively, to seek naturalisation as a British Overseas Territories citizen of the Cayman Islands, and then progress to the Cayman Islands equivalent of citizenship known as the right to be Caymanian. Cayman law does not require other citizenships to be relinquished as a condition of becoming a Caymanian. Persons who have been naturalised may apply for full British passports.
4. Is immigration permission needed to give or receive short-term training?
Individuals arriving in the Cayman Islands for the purposes of receiving particular types of training, and provided that the period of time in the Cayman Islands for those purposes does not exceed seven days, are exempt from the requirement to seek and obtain a work permit. However, if they are to remain in the Cayman Islands for in excess of seven days they must obtain approval. Persons already legally resident in the Cayman Islands generally need no permission to give or receive training.
5. Are transit visas required to travel through your country? How are these obtained?
Visas to travel through the Cayman Islands are only required where the traveller will be entering the territory for a period of time, and otherwise falls within a category of citizenship, which requires a visa to travel to the Cayman Islands.
6. What are the main immigration permission categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?
Skilled expatriates seeking to work in the Cayman Islands (rather than simply invest or reside) can obtain initial immigration permissions in one of three ways:
- business visitor's permit – where services of persons not resident in the Cayman Islands are required on an ad hoc basis. An employer can make a single application each calendar year and if successful the employee can visit multiple times during the year;
- temporary work permit – for three or six months. Extensions beyond an initial six months require that an application for a full work permit be submitted prior to the expiry of the temporary work permit. A temporary work permit can be made available within 48 hours and so is the preferred option if a worker is needed urgently; or
- full work permit – for up to five years (and subject to renewal). The length of time granted will depend on the type of occupation. Key personnel can have work permits renewed for up to nine years, but beyond that point must make the transition to a separate residency and employment rights certificate regime.
7. What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions?
For each permit an application must be made by the employer on the basis that there is no suitable person available locally with the necessary skills, qualifications or experience to undertake the particular role. Advertisements are often needed as proof but the requirement can be waived in particular circumstances. An application form is prepared by both the employer and employee, and then submitted to the Immigration Department (with supporting documents and requisite fees) for consideration.
8. What are the general maximum and minimum periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?
While the business visitor's permit does not permit a stay of more than 14 consecutive days on any one visit, other work permits can be the subject of renewal (in appropriate circumstances) for up to a total of nine years. Thereafter, workers must make the transition to other types of immigration permission and seek and obtain a residency and employment rights certificate of indefinite duration.
9. How long does it typically take to process the main categories?
Business visitor permits and temporary work permits are generally granted within two weeks of application. An expedited processing fee can be paid to ensure that temporary work permits are processed within 48 hours of submission. In appropriate circumstances, the authorities are exceptionally cooperative and we have experienced permissions being granted on a same-day basis.
The longer-term 'full' work permits (for one year or more) can take longer to process. They are generally granted within six weeks of application.
10. Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?
All persons working in and resident in the Cayman Islands (ie, not employed on a temporary basis) must have in place adequate health insurance. This obligation extends to non-working dependants residing in the Cayman Islands. The general expectation is that the health insurance be provided by a local insurer and the obligation is on the employer to ensure that insurance is in place. There is no obligation on an employer to provide a place of residence for staff, but it is a term and condition of the grant of any work permit that the staff member (and any dependants) have in place suitable accommodation.
Further, once persons have been employed in the Cayman Islands and have been resident there for a minimum period of nine months, they must participate in a mandatory pension scheme. Persons who depart the Cayman Islands are entitled to cash out of the scheme depending on the amount, and have the monies either provided to them or transferred to a suitable overseas pension scheme following their departure.
School-aged dependants are required to be enrolled in private educational institutions.
11. Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?
The criteria followed by the immigration authorities are largely objective, although there is an element of discretion permitted. The authorities are (for example) expected to only grant permissions if it is in the best interest of the Cayman Islands and due regard is given to the effect of the granting of any permission on persons already engaged in such business or otherwise resident in the Cayman Islands. They are required to take into account the conduct of the employer and the character and attributes of the employee and, where relevant, their dependants. There is therefore some scope to determine that a particular permission is not desirable. These 'refusals' are rare. There is certainly a great willingness to be flexible within the rules to accommodate complicated cases. The legitimate expectations of businesses that are contributing to the economy and the Cayman Islands are usually met without difficulty, and rare issues, should they arise, are resolved promptly.
12. Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?
Government policy firmly encourages high net worth individuals and investors to establish operations or residence, or both, in the Cayman Islands. Self-employed business persons can expect great cooperation in obtaining trade and business licences where their business is conducted within the Cayman Islands in furtherance of activities outside the Cayman Islands, and work permits for appropriate persons in such roles are readily available.
Similarly, persons who are investing in local businesses are given preferential treatment. There are specific certificates available for entrepreneurs and investors, particularly where the business contemplated is within a particularly favoured industry type or otherwise will generate employment and other benefits.
13. Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?
As a general principle, the more skilled an individual is the less scrutiny is provided to their application and the more likely it is that the application will be granted promptly and with full support and assistance from the authorities.
14. Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?
Subject to the anticipated imminent implementation of a CI$5 per hour minimum wage there is no particular minimum salary requirement for various categories of company transferee. That being said, the immigration authorities will be at liberty to maintain an element of discretion to seek to ensure that salaries paid are sufficient to enable persons residing in the Cayman Islands to enjoy a reasonable standard of living and further do not significantly undermine generally accepted rates of pay in particular industries. Where a worker has dependants accompanying them, a 'guide' monthly minimum salary expectation of CI$3,500 is imposed, with that sum increasing depending on the total number of dependants accompanying a worker.
15. Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?
Although exemptions can be sought (and are freely granted for appropriate senior and specialised positions) there is a general requirement to advertise positions locally. Any other testing of the local labour pool (which is undertaken at the same time as advertising) is generally required only in respect of the least skilled positions. Nevertheless, such other testing is conducted by making a written enquiry to the Cayman Islands Department of Employment Relations. There are no particular thresholds in play.
In practice, should the Department of Employment Relations identify that there is a local person potentially qualified and suitable for the role, the individual must be interviewed. Provided the candidate meets all the expectations of the role, there will be an expectation that that candidate be employed in preference or in addition to any foreign national. Nevertheless, this rule is not absolute and exceptions can be made in appropriate circumstances.
Similarly, where a qualified person responds to an advertisement, they must be interviewed and in the absence of good reason as to why they are not suitable, be offered the position in preference to or in addition to the overseas candidate. As a general principle, no immigration permission will be granted where there are already suitable persons available locally who are qualified and ready to fill the position. The immigration authorities are however prepared to depart from this principle where other substantial benefit accrues to the Cayman Islands.
16. What is the process for third-party contractors obtaining work permission?
A contractor is generally required to hold a work permit that limits them to either working for themselves (in which case they can provide services to numerous employers) or for a specific company. If they are engaged by that company and nevertheless seek to provide services for the benefit of other companies, they must do so under the auspices of their primary employer. There is no absolute prohibition on someone on a work permit working as a contractor on another company's premises provided they are not directly employed by that other company and operate as an agent of their employer.
17. Is assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?
In considering whether an application for a work permit ought to be granted, certain factors are taken into consideration including the individual's skills and qualifications in relation to their intended role. There are certain professions that are regulated by a local body and in appropriate circumstances the Immigration Department will seek that body's input when making the determination as to an applicant's qualifications. In such cases, and provided that all other criteria are met, the Immigration Department may grant an application on a provisional basis pending the approval and recognition of the relevant local regulatory body. For other types of professions not regulated, the Immigration Department will rely on the representations of the applicant and the supporting documentation verifying their suitability to undertake the relevant role.
EXTENSIONS AND VARIATIONS
18. How can short-term visas be converted into longer-term authorisations?
Visitors and business visitors cannot typically convert their permission to a work permit without leaving the island for (at least) a short time. Exceptions can be made. Holders of a temporary work permit can apply for a full work permit (for anywhere from one to five years). As long as such application is made prior to the expiry of the existing temporary work permit, then the employee can continue to lawfully reside and work pending the outcome of the full work permit application. Once a worker has been legally and ordinarily resident in the Cayman Islands for at least eight years, he or she may apply for permanent residence with the right to work, and thereafter transition to a residency and employment rights certificate.
19. Can long-term immigration permission be extended?
Subject to meeting certain criteria, including making successful application for permanent residence (in appropriate circumstances), there is no prohibition on the length of time for which immigration permissions can ultimately be extended. While work permits cannot be extended beyond nine years, the holders of work permits can transfer to other types of immigration permissions. Accordingly, there is no absolute requirement to leave eventually in respect of persons who achieve key employee designation and permanent residence, marry a Caymanian or a permanent resident, or fall within various categories of dependant. Many work permit holders proceed to become Caymanian.
20. What are the rules on and implications of exit and re-entry for work permits?
There is no prohibition on travel for work permit holders. Provided individuals have a valid current work permit stamp in their passport, they may travel freely to and from the Cayman Islands without any risk of their permission being cancelled.
21. How can immigrants qualify for permanent residency or citizenship?
Immigrants can qualify for permanent residency or citizenship in the Cayman Islands through a variety of means. These permissions can be obtained based simply on the marriage of the immigrant to a person who already possesses permanent residency or citizenship, or by virtue of the immigrant becoming a dependant of a permanent resident or Caymanian. Further, and the most likely course for most individuals, persons graduate through the work permit scheme and, after eight years of residence, apply for permanent residence with the right to work.
The criteria required to achieve such residence is largely objective and points-based, and there is a transparent process for qualification. Persons who are particularly skilled and are in any senior capacity within an organisation can expect to stand an extremely good prospect of acquiring permanent residence.
Once permanent residence is obtained, it can either be maintained indefinitely (requiring payment of annual fees for so long as the individual wishes to remain in gainful occupation) or the person can (upon the expiry of one year from the grant of permanent residence) apply for British Overseas Territories citizenship by virtue of a connection with the Cayman Islands. British Overseas Territories citizens who have held that citizenship for five years or been legally and ordinarily resident in the Cayman Islands for 15 years can apply to become Caymanian on the basis of residence.
Marriage to a permanent resident qualifies an applicant to apply for immediate permanent residence as a spouse, and marriage to a Caymanian can result in the expatriate spouse acquiring full citizenship in seven years.
22. Must immigration permission be cancelled at the end of employment in your jurisdiction?
In circumstances where an employee ceases to be employed during the currency of a work permit, the immigration regulations require that notification be provided to the immigration authorities. The worker is then given a short period of time in which to regularise their position in the Cayman Islands or return to their home jurisdiction. Should an individual be promoted to a new position by their employer, the consent of the immigration authorities must be sought and obtained before the person assumes their new role, but otherwise no form of express cancellation of prior permissions is generally required.
23. Are there any specific restrictions on a holder of employment permission?
Persons who possess permanent residence with the right to work, provided they remain within their approved occupation, have no restrictions as to their ability to be promoted or change role and enjoy varied salary or other benefits.
The holders of lesser immigration permissions, including work permits, are entitled to study but cannot be promoted or redesignated absent the prior consent of the immigration authorities. Variations to work permits are readily granted in appropriate circumstances.
Salary can change freely provided it remains within a band for employees generally at that level within a particular organisation and not inconsistent with the amount reported to the immigration authorities during the application process.
Working for another employer in addition to the current employer does require the permission of the immigration authorities and a shared work permit scheme is in place to facilitate such multiple roles.
Wholesale changing of employers does however require a cancellation of existing work permits and a renewal of immigration permissions in favour of the new employer. Various mechanisms are in place to assist in any such transition where appropriate. Dependants
24. Who qualifies as a dependant?
A dependant, for the purposes of the Immigration Law, means a spouse, child, step-child, adopted child, grandchild, parent, stepparent, grandparent, brother, sister, half-brother, or half-sister being in each case, wholly or substantially dependent upon that person. As the Cayman Islands does not recognise civil partnerships, a 'spouse' is only a husband or wife. No recognition is afforded to unmarried partners, heterosexual or otherwise.
25. Are dependants automatically allowed to work?
Dependants are not automatically allowed to work unless they become named on a work permit. The prospective employers of such individuals may make an application for a work permit on their behalf. The process followed is the same as for any other expatriate worker, save that advantage is provided to persons (such as dependants) who are already legally and ordinarily resident in the Cayman Islands.
26. What social benefits are dependants entitled to?
The dependants of work permit holders are generally not entitled to any social benefits. They are required to be enrolled in private schools (if they are of appropriate age) and to be the beneficiaries of private health insurance.
27. Are prior criminal convictions a barrier to obtaining immigration permission?
Prior criminal convictions can be a barrier to obtaining immigration permissions, but the barrier is not absolute. While there is a general obligation to provide full details of all prior convictions to the authorities (regardless of whether or not they may otherwise be treated as 'spent' convictions), the authorities have wide discretion as to whether or not the seriousness of the offence is sufficient to provide an absolute bar.
The decision-making boards will take into account a number of factors in exercising that discretion, including the seriousness of the offence, the age of the applicant when the offence was committed, the applicant's subsequent history of being a law-abiding and productive citizen, and the benefit that the applicant is likely to bring to the Cayman Islands.
28. What are the penalties for companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration law? How are these applied in practice?
There is a wide range of penalties for companies and non-individuals in respect of non-compliance with the Immigration Law. These range from fines (which can be substantial) to imprisonment.
In the absence of direct taxation, a significant part of the Cayman government's revenue is gained by the collection of work permit fees. Where an offence is committed, detected and prosecuted, a penalty by way of a fine assessed at two to three times the fee that would have otherwise been payable is often imposed. Severe sanctions are extremely rare. We are unaware of anyone in recent times facing any imprisonment for any breach of the Immigration Law insofar as it relates to the employment of foreign nationals. Fines are generally imposed with considerable restraint and an administrative process is usually available to employers and employees who are prepared to admit to an offence having occurred. In the rare circumstances where prosecution does take place, the result usually involves payment of a small fine, and refusal (in appropriate circumstances) of further immigration permissions.
29. Are there any minimum language requirements for migrants?
All persons coming to work in the Cayman Islands are required to have a basic proficiency in the English language. A test is administered to individuals arriving for the first time on a work permit, if they come from a non-English-speaking country. The test is administered at the airport and is basic in nature, but seeks to ensure that an applicant can communicate effectively in such matters as identifying themselves, communicating and seeking and providing directions. The test is very short. The requirement can potentially be reviewed in appropriate circumstances.
30. Is medical screening required for obtaining immigration permission?
Any immigration permission that will extend beyond three months requires the applicant to provide the results of a medical examination as part of the application process. The required screening includes testing for HIV, tuberculosis and a chest X-ray.
There is no absolute prohibition on persons who test positive for disease or are not otherwise in good health receiving immigration permissions. The authorities can and do exercise discretion, taking into account such matters as the availability of suitable care in the Cayman Islands, the adequacy of health insurance and the danger to public health that the applicant may or may not present to the community should the permission to reside and work in the Cayman Islands be granted.
Update and trends
The term limits policy implemented by the government of the Cayman Islands, which seeks to maintain controls on non-key employees remaining in the Cayman Islands beyond seven years, is currently under scrutiny. Indeed, special permits may soon be available for persons who have reached their seven-year term limit and are not considered 'key' employees but nonetheless wish to continue to work for up to two additional years. Separately, workers in specified industries may in the near future be able to obtain work permits that are valid for 10 years.
Special economic zones are in the process of being established and legislation is in preparation that will provide incentives to entities seeking to establish a presence (particularly in the field of technology) in the Cayman Islands.
Further, in order to encourage the continued growth and development of the Cayman Islands' financial services industry, various regulations have been put in place to provide comfort and assurance to those operating in that field. Further encouragement is provided in particular to industries that do not compete in the domestic market to grow their existing presence within the Cayman Islands or otherwise establish a presence or relocate from elsewhere.
Given the Cayman Islands' geographical position in the middle of the Americas, in the same time zone as the East Coast of the United States, its advanced infrastructure (including excellent communications), stability as a British Overseas Territory, an absence of corporate or income tax, and a growing international business community, there is a trend of new businesses and individuals recognising the Cayman Islands as a secure and tax-neutral location from which to base or otherwise conduct international business.
Originally published in Getting the Deal Through
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.