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Expat Experiences

Cayman Islands > Expat Experiences

Cayman Islands

Gordon Barlow

Monday April 09, 2012 (00:04:12)
Gordon Barlow
Gordon Barlow

My name is Gordon Barlow, married and with grandchildren. I left Australia in 1963, as did my wife, whom I met in Greece the following year.

Looking back, it seems I became addicted to the expat life during my second year in Bahamas, after earlier experiences in England and Canada. Gradually the realisation took over that there was more to life than going home to Australia and a pleasant-but-humdrum future as a partner in an accounting firm.

So after three years in Nassau – I a trust-officer, Linda a teacher – we spent a year as expats (yes!) in Perth, Australia, before finding jobs in New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu. Though both of us were born and raised in Australia, we discovered the truth of the old saw, “you can’t go home again”. We had far more in common with foreign expats than with compatriots who had never been away. I’m sure many other expats discover the same thing.

With an infant son, we came to Cayman from England for the usual 2-3-year expat stint, and stayed. After my stint I became a house-father for five years. Linda left teaching and became an office secretary. The local Work Permit regime gradually tightened in the 1980s as expats began to outnumber the native stay-at-homes. I fell victim to the system after being recruited to open the local Chamber of Commerce’s first office. My job included mobilising public opinion to defeat a proposed Salaries Tax and Payroll Tax; success brought the wrath of the political establishment down on my head.

We hung on here by the skin of our teeth, though I became a pariah for the politicians and their cronies who had favoured the taxes. Prospective employers feared to associate with me even socially; the Work Permit authorities had – and still have – the power to destroy businesses and careers. So today I am an outspoken advocate against abuses of civic and human rights in a newspaper column and a blogsite. This gives me undeserved fame and notoriety, which is sometimes embarrassing.

One of my perennial targets is the legally tolerated exploitation, by some employers, of foreign domestic servants and other unskilled workers. They have no rights, and may be deported at the whim of their employers or indeed any other native Caymanian of influence. Work Permits are indentures that bind each foreign worker to a specified employer for twelve months at a time.

Another target is the crippling of native-born Caymanians’ self-confidence (they are a distinct ethnic group, by the way) by their politicians’ employment-protectionist policies. Intimidated by the Work Permit authorities, employers are pressured to employ and promote Caymanians beyond their capabilities. Some Caymanians happily take the big salaries and high positions, but the more discerning and capable of them resent the assumption that they didn’t get there on their personal merits. The practice leads to inefficiency and to a societal schism between natives and expats.

A third target is government’s financial mismanagement – a problem not confined to Cayman, of course. Our last audited financial statements were those of 2004, for goodness sake. Annual Public Revenues are more than enough to pay for a wickedly bloated Civil Service as well as a first-class physical infrastructure. Nevertheless, and regrettably, our politicians feel driven to borrow excessively. We risk becoming a mini-Greece, sooner or later. Our status as a British colony puts responsibility for our public finances in the hands of Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London – but that is a polite fiction, most of the time.

Many of the postings on my blogsite www.barlowscayman.blogspot.com cover these topics. I mention them here as background information.

The population of Cayman is about 50,000, divided into native Caymanians and expats in the ratio of about one-to-two. Expats include long-term immigrants (some with citizenship papers, which don’t necessarily give them full civil rights) and short-term transients. There are more than fifty nationalities, of which the main ones are Jamaican, Latin American, Filipino, Indian, Canadian and USA, UK, and other European. Divisions exist along national lines, social-class lines, and incomes to some extent, but not racial or religious lines.

Relations between natives and expats are cordial on an individual basis, but tensions arise whenever the discussion turns to politics or civil rights. Any native has the power to arrange the expulsion of any Work Permit expat, and both sides know it. The knowledge tends to inhibit the free flow of conversation, on occasion.

Our 34 years’ residence – despite all the public nastiness following the Chamber of Commerce furore – bears witness to the pleasantness of living in Cayman. I am retired; my wife does conveyancing in a law firm. There is so much to do that we are never bored. It has always been a wonderful place to bring up small children. I won’t say nobody could be bored here; spouses without jobs aren’t always happy, but that applies in most expat-havens.

 
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