September 25, 2023

“Rollover must change says Tony Travers”

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Anthony Travers

Anthony Travers would agree with Ezzard Miller about rolling over expatriates, but the North Side MLA cannot say how to replace the financial-service’s $275 million per year in government revenues.

Nor can Mr Miller say, Mr Travers charged, what other industry will employ 600 Caymanian school leavers each year.

At a Harquail Theatre panel discussion of immigration policy on Thursday night, Mr Miller disagreed, however. He said Caymanians were perfectly able to run the financial industry.

Expatriate managers should be “rolled over” upon expiry of their seven-year term limit, he said, making way for trained Caymanians, and, in fact, called for cancellation of work permits for 12 expat lawyers on Friday morning.

“The problem is that the legal industry,” he said, “was developed as a facilitator to the global financial-services industry, and the top-level people you want to talk to are in New York and Hong Kong.”

The five-member group, sponsored by Generation Now — formed to promote youth development and public dialogue — comprised Mr Miller; Chairman of the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange and former Chairman of Cayman Finance Anthony Travers; Chamber of Commerce President James O’Neil; attorney, Co-Chair of the United Democratic Party, head of the Immigration Review Team and the recently appointed Term Limit Review Committee Sherri Bodden-Cowan; and Leader of the People’s Progressive Movement Alden McLaughlin.

Moderated by Rooster radio’s “Cayman Crosstalk” host Austin Harris, the three-hour debate — before a half-full auditorium – concluded the rollover policy had failed, but for different reasons.

While most sought dramatic changes, longtime advocate Mr Miller said stricter enforcement was necessary, providing greater opportunity for Caymanians.

Mr O’Neill “totally disagreed,” saying only dramatic changes to the policy could avoid massive economic “knock-on effects”.

Mr Travers was more blunt, however, forecasting “catastrophic damage” without revision.

“How are you going to stand up when 50% of government revenues are produced by the financial-services industry? The professionals will not come to this island if they have seven years. Hong Kong and Singapore is where they are going. The Cayman Islands is not even on the radar as people are moving out of the City of London. This financial services industry is in deep trouble,” Mr Travers said.

Austin Harris

Mr McLaughlin rejected the remarks as alarmist, however, saying government fee hikes for registration and work permits, coupled with an escalating cost of living, were driving the industry away.

He recommended “taking the bull by the horns” and repealing both rollover and the “key employee” designation, replacing them with a singe eight-year permit that welcomed holders to apply for permanent residence.

While Mr Miller agreed that Cayman needed to attract “a new breed” of financial professionals, he blamed “incompetent government” for the problems.

Mr Travers said Cayman needed “sophisticated, high net-worth” persons, and their new “investment broker/dealer” businesses. He regretted that “thousands of fund administration jobs had left the country”, and said 50% of them were held by Caymanians.

He agreed with Mr Miller that ”grotesque abuses” of policy had occurred through lack of training, staffing forecasts and promotion of accomplished Caymanians, but said it was an enforcement problem, unrelated to term limits and rollover.

He also accused Mr Miller of “scare-mongering” and “ranting” by saying Caymanians had lost economic control of the islands and would lose political control if the rollover were lifted.

“Voting rights are controlled by the constitution,” he said. “Financial professionals bring inward investment.

“We need proper enforcement, and the answer is not to destroy the economy and not attract investors, but to make sure abuses are corrected.

“Cayman,” he said, “has to attract the brightest and the best, but they will not be attracted with a seven-year or a 10-year limit. They have their pick of jurisdictions, and we are not even on the top-10 list.”

Finally, calling for a “human resources authority” to match immigration applications with labour needs, Mr Miller said, “the rollover should stay. Those that leave, nine out of 10 will be replaced. What we need is border control.”

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