Overstayers given amnesty

Illegals can freely leave

The Department of Immigration announced Thursday an amnesty from prosecution for overstayers effective today through 23 December.

However, Jamaicans that wish to take advantage of the offer might find it difficult to leave the island because of flights to Jamaica booked up with holiday travellers.

One person who called for the amnesty, Pastor Steve ‘Herro’ Blair, is also a travel agent with Cayman Tours and Travel

‘People only have three days to get off the island because all the flights are booked,’ he said. ‘Technically, this is a three-day amnesty. But that’s better than nothing.’

Honorary Consul to Jamaica Robert Hamaty said flights to Jamaica booking up around Christmas happens every year.

Mr. Hamaty thinks the Government should extend the amnesty deadline beyond 23 December.

‘Amnesty wouldn’t make sense if there are no flights available,’ he said.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said the Immigration Department checked with the airlines before announcing the amnesty and was satisfied that any person wanting to leave would be able to do so.

‘Additionally, Cayman Airways confirmed that they would be putting on extra flights once the need arises.’

But a Cayman Airways telephone reservation clerk said yesterday that there were no seats on flights available after 6 pm Monday through 27 December. Nor was she aware of any additional flights that would be added.

Rick Blake, Cayman Airway’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the airline had already added extra flights and they were already booked up.

However, he said Cayman Airways was considering adding additional flights.

‘We’re looking at that right now,’ he said.

Mr. Blake said Cayman Airways was in the process of firming up reservations for existing flights to ensure there are not duplicate reservations before they would add any additional flights.

Another factor is crew availability, Mr. Blake said, adding that Cayman Airways could and would probably add more flights if there is sufficient demand.

Those residing illegally in the Cayman Islands who want to take advantage of the amnesty offer simply need to make an airline reservation and leave during the amnesty period. The Immigration Department said they will not be prosecuted for the overstaying offence.

The amnesty offer, which is open to overstayers off any nationality, also applies for two other kinds of immigration offences: employers holding work permits for employees for whom they have no work; and employees holding a valid work permit, but for whom employers no longer have full-time work.

The Immigration Department said employers or employees who wish to cancel work permits must submit a letter to the Department of Immigration marked ‘Amnesty’, informing the Chief Immigration Officer of their wish to cancel the work permit.

Employees whose work permits have been cancelled either by employers or by themselves should report immediately to the Immigration Headquarters with confirmed reservations for their departure during the amnesty period, the Immigration Department stated.

Mr. Blair said he was thankful for the amnesty offer.

‘I encourage [overstayers] to take advantage of the amnesty,’ he said. ‘No doubt Immigration will take a strong stance after this, and rightfully so.’

The Immigration Department confirmed it, along with other law enforcement agencies, would actively pursue overstayers who did not take advantage of the amnesty offer.

‘Such persons will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and deportation will be recommended where appropriate,’ the Immigration Department said.

The maximum penalty for overstaying is a fine of CI$20,000 and imprisonment of up to five years, and the penalties for work permit offences range from fines between CI$5,000 and CI$15,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

Mr. Manderson urged overstayers to take advantage of the amnesty offer. ‘Those who forego this opportunity will be making a serious error of judgment and can expect to face serious consequences,’ he said.

Mr. Manderson also called for employers to help reduce immigration offences.

‘This is a golden opportunity for Caymanian employers to play a part in reducing immigration crime in their country and I expect that they will act responsibly and turn in work permits for employees that they no longer can provide work for.’

Mr. Hamaty called again for the release of the names of the Jamaican overstayers so they could be published in the Jamaican newspapers so that their families would encourage them to return to Jamaica.

‘We will do everything possible to assist the Cayman Islands government and the Immigration Department in getting these [overstayers] off the island because these people have broken the law,’ Mr. Hamaty said.