The Department of Immigration’s amnesty programme for people here illegally, originally scheduled to end today, has been extended until 6 January.
Through Wednesday, 39 people, including 22 Jamaicans, had taken advantage of the amnesty programme, which allows people here illegally to leave without the liability of prosecution.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said people were receptive to the programme.
‘With the additional time being provided, we are still hoping to see even more persons taking advantage of the amnesty,’ he said.
‘I would also take this opportunity to ask employers who are providing an incentive for persons to remain illegally by offering them employment to cease from doing so. Those employers who choose to continue to employ overstayers can expect to be caught and prosecuted after the amnesty period has expired.’
Pastor Steve Blair, who has close ties with the Jamaican community in Cayman and who called for an amnesty period, said the extension was welcome news.
‘I think that Immigration is trying to prove they’re not working against people,’ Mr. Blair said. ‘They’re really making an effort to get the job done.’
When the Cayman Islands Government announced in October that it would impose visa requirements for four nations including Jamaica, Mr. Manderson said there were an estimated 1,500 Jamaicans illegally in Cayman.
Some in the community, including Mr. Blair, have expressed doubt that the number of Jamaican overstayers was that high.
‘No one, including myself, ever thought (the number of Jamaican overstayers) was that high,’ he said. ‘They haven’t produced the names of the 1,500 overstayers, or produced any evidence at all there were that many.’
Honorary Jamaican Consul in Cayman, Robert Hamaty, has also asked for a list of names of Jamaican overstayers.
‘I’m asking publicly for Immigration to publish the names of the overstayers so employers can find out if they’re employing anyone illegally,’ he said. ‘And then we could publish the names in Jamaica so that family members would encourage (the overstayers) to come back.’
Mr. Manderson said on 8 December, that 30 overstayers had been removed from the country since the announcement of the visa requirements, but that he was unable to say how many overstayers left voluntarily to that point.
Nor was he certain how many overstayers were left on the island as of that date.
‘We are continuing to audit the overstayers’ list and will be in a position to provide numbers in a few weeks,’ he stated.
This Wednesday, however, Mr. Manderson stated the Immigration Department had not made any significant progress with the overstayers list because ‘all our staff are currently tied up with Cuban migrants’.
With the relatively low reported numbers of overstaying Jamaicans who have been forcibly removed from the island or have left under the amnesty programme, there would appear to be hundreds of Jamaican overstayers still here.
Mr. Hamaty asked where all those Jamaicans here illegally were staying.
‘We have a housing shortage here,’ he said. ‘Who’s putting all of these people up?’
Mr. Manderson said to the local media this week that some of the people that were here illegally could have left without being properly recorded at the airport as having left.
Mr. Blair said the Government should be held accountable for proving the statement that there were 1,500 Jamaican overstayers here because it was used as part of the justification for the implementation of the visa requirement for Jamaicans.
If it turns out there were fewer overstayers here than originally estimated, Mr. Blair thinks the Government should apologise.
Regardless, both Mr. Blair and Mr. Hamaty are thankful for the amnesty extension, and both men urged overstayers to leave the country during the amnesty period.
Mr. Blair indicated the amnesty extension will allow those that had difficulty getting a flight reservation off the island because of full holiday flights another chance to leave.
‘This is a very good gesture on the part of Immigration,’ he said. ‘I hope people will take advantage of it.’
Mr. Manderson noted that none of the people from countries that had the new visa requirements have overstayed their authority since the requirements were imposed.
‘This means that our visa program is working in that we are only allowing genuine visitors in, while having an opportunity to remove those who have no right to be here,’ he stated recently.