Immigration’s future high tech

Biometrics, electronic checks, encoded information.

Sounds like something out of a high-tech spy novel.

But it is in fact the future of Immigration in the Cayman Islands.

Immigration Department higher ups say that within five years the agency will be streamlined in such a way that cruise ship passengers will be cleared quicker and the background of everyone entering the Cayman Islands will be known.

‘There will be some unique personal detail encoded on the passport or card,’ said Gerry Maguire who bid adieu to the department Friday.

Mr. Maguire first arrived in the Cayman Islands in the summer of 1994, taking over as CIO from John Bostock. He said his biggest challenge was the Cuban crisis when almost 1,200 refugees arrived in all sorts of vessels.

‘There were huge management and security challenges with maintenance of detention centres and frequent outbreaks of violence,’ he said. ‘Eventually most were moved to Guantanamo Bay and ultimately paroled into the US.’

He served from 1994 until 1996 and then again from 2003 until Friday.

During the latest stint he saw challenges from the introduction and implementation of the new Immigration law, enhancing the senior management team and project management of building renovations and repairs.

He turned over the reigns as Chief Immigration Office to Franz Manderson in July 2004, but has stayed on to help with the transition. Maguire is returning to England, but has his sights set on returning to the Cayman Islands for special projects or consultation work, if need be.

As for the future of the department, it’s bright, said Mr. Manderson.

‘We’re going to have a much more efficient Immigration Department,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘We’re going to focus on the use of technology. Because of the new Immigration law, it will no longer be the case of persons coming here without knowing their future in the Cayman Islands. We will have open and transparent policies.

One of his goals is to tweak the department’s website to allow personal employers access to work permit documents. As of now, only businesses have the access.

‘There are 5 thousand to 6 thousand domestic helpers on the island,’ he said. ‘We want to give them the same benefits as corporate customers.’

And it’s at the word customer that Mr. Manderson begins to detail what he thinks is needed most at the department; better customer service.

‘We need a call centre for the calls that do come in. We want to improve the area at the public centre for staff and customers. That area is not very user friendly. We need better seats, a number system and maybe even a TV.

‘We need an organized and efficient system,’ he said.

‘We plan to improve our processing delivery time on work permits. We believe we can significantly reduce the time it takes to produce annual work permits’

And last but not least, Mr. Manderson would like for the Immigration Department to get a new building.

Many of the changes were in the works until September, when Hurricane Ivan blew into the Cayman Islands and presented one of the biggest challenges in the lifetime of the department.

The department’s hurricane policy worked, he said.

‘We had a good hurricane plan that we put into action. We didn’t lose any cars. We moved the computers off the ground floor. We did everything we were supposed to do.

‘We kept our staff informed through meetings before and after the storm, which helped staff know what was going on. Of course, we learned lessons. It was not a perfect plan by any means.’

Most of the Immigration Department building was spared in the storm. Space next door was destroyed.

‘From my point of view the storm was very stressful,’ said Mr. Maguire. ‘There was no power; no computer system. All sorts of modifications had to be made. There was no AC and staff was under a great deal of pressure. It was hell, actually.’

Mr. Manderson agrees.

‘All of our resources were totally stretched. We were assisting with the evacuations of people after the hurricane. Our airport staff was stressed. Many staff had lost their homes and that contributed to the overall stress level. These people are used to working under stress, but not at home.

‘We were thrust into the forefront. Our ability to act quickly and decisively contributed greatly to our ability to recover.’

As the storm clouds cleared the Immigration Department saw itself facing thousands of faces.

There were 2,000 free work permits issued immediately after the storm. The department has issued more than 6,000 work permits since Hurricane Ivan.

Many of those people have left, said Mr. Manderson. ‘Some just came in for short-term work like inspectors, surveyors, adjusters.’

The department normally processes about 600 people a month. For weeks after the storm it was dealing with 1,000 people a day.

Mr. Manderson credits his staff for the long hours and dedication since Ivan.

He lost no staff because of the storm.

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