Sidebar Information:Franz Manderson – At a glance
At the forefront of the Cayman Islands’ economy is the financial sector, which depends on a reliable immigration system to get and keep the best people to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Recognising that need, Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson set out to modernise the Immigration Department to make it more customer-focused through technology and innovation.
Above all, Mr Manderson’s priority was a more user-friendly system.
In the past it was difficult to get someone on the telephone at Immigration to answer basic questions. Long lines of people streaming out of the door and on to the sidewalk were not an uncommon sight.
“We wanted to make it easier for people all over the world in terms of accessing immigration information,” Manderson said, adding up-to-date and accurate information on www.immigration.gov.ky was imperative not only to the financial sector but to everyone who visits or work in the Cayman Islands.
“Our statistics show that our website has been accessed from more than 200 countries,” he said. “That tells us people from all over the world are looking at the Cayman Islands and looking at our website to get information on our immigration processes.”
A comprehensive immigration website allows visitors to research any aspect of immigration control for non-citizens. It includes information on working, living, studying and visiting the Cayman Islands.
It also covers processes such as business licensing, permanent residency and visas to enter the country.
Making the website more useful was part of the process, but Mr Manderson also targeted counter service remembering the post-Hurricane Ivan scenario in 2004.
“Shortly after…we often had people lined up out the door and down the sidewalk,” he said, adding that it sometimes took people more than an hour to complete their business at immigration.
Mr Manderson understood time was money for most people and businesses so that something had to be done to reduce the time it took at the immigration counter.
He oversaw a major revamping of the customer service centre, which included physical and system-based changes. The Immigration Department set up a call centre to answer questions.
But Mr Manderson knew the biggest complaint of most employers was how long it took to process a work permit. In certain circumstances, it has taken months – even up to a year – to get permits through.
To change that, Mr Manderson recommended the Immigration Department dealt with non-controversial work permit grant applications administratively. The government agreed.
Earlier this year, Cayman’s Immigration Department began reviewing and making decisions on work permit applications. They started by reviewing about ten applications a day under Mr Manderson’s oversight.
“We would like to get to a stage where we can be doing 400 or 500 work permits per week.”
Mr Manderson said having the Immigration Department process non-controversial applications would free up the Work Permit and the Business Staffing Plan boards to review matters such as key employee applications.
“We got unanimous support from both chairs [of the work permit-issuing boards] to move to this system,” Mr Manderson said, adding that there are many benefits to the new system.
“It allows us to scrutinise work permit applications in a way we weren’t able to before,” he said. Besides verifying information on applications, the staff will ensure employers are compliant with the National Pensions and Health Insurance laws.
All employers must get accredited in a new system the Immigration Department will implement some time this year.
“The accreditation system for employers, we believe, is the next logical step in our immigration reform,” said Mr Manderson. “It not only vets those who aren’t complying, but it rewards employers who are doing everything necessary for the success of Caymanians.”
Under the new process, a points system will rank employers in tiers based on their compliance with the law; their practices in training, hiring, and promoting Caymanians; and their willingness to do things such as offering scholarships to young Caymanians. Companies that are in the top tier – as are many firms in the financial sector – will be able to get permits expedited in a matter of days.
On the other hand, if the Immigration Department finds out an employer is not compliant with the law; it can put the business on probation. During that period, the Immigration Department will not grant temporary or full permits. It could, however, renew permits so a company stays in business.
“It’s going to be a big problem for people who aren’t compliant. But it’s only right that companies need to be compliant,” Mr Manderson said, noting that companies that are not doing things such as ensuring their employees have health insurance or making required pension payments are putting businesses that do comply with the laws at a competitive disadvantage.
To make sure companies are doing what they’re supposed to, Mr Manderson said compliance teams would check businesses and respond to employee complaints.
Consultation with the private sector shows consensus on the accreditation system that is to be implemented this summer. Employers will have six to nine months to become accredited from the date of announcement.
Mr Manderson thinks reforms to the Immigration Department, will make Cayman more attractive to business people.
“Once all of these systems come on line, we will have the most advanced, efficient and business-friendly immigration system in the region,” he said. “It’s a new and innovative system that is not offered in other jurisdictions.”
He said feedback from the financial industry indicated it was not a matter of favourable or unfavourable responses to applications that frustrates them most.
“They said they wanted speedy and accurate decisions and…to get the right expertise here at the right time,” he said. “We will deliver on those requests.”
Mr Manderson stressed however, that the Immigration reform is good for all employers.
“It all adds up to a modern and efficient package that caters to the needs of employers in all sectors.”