The Cayman Islands government said last week that it’s reviewing administrative procedures for the country’s various immigration-related boards with an eye toward making those operations more efficient.
‘There’s no question that the system needs restructuring,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said in response to a reporter’s questions that government did intend to look at the Business Staffing Plan Board, whose chairperson Sophia Harris, recently resigned after some highly-publicised infighting among board members.
Mr. Tibbetts said the review would not be limited to the staffing board. It could extend to entities such as the Work Permit Board, the Permanent Residency and Caymanian Status Board, and the Immigration Appeals Board.
‘The objective is more efficiency, and more timely dealings with all of these applications,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘Whatever it takes to make that happen is what we’re looking to do.’
There have been grumblings at both the Cayman Islands Immigration Department and among board members themselves about delays in processing various applications. At one point earlier this year, Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said there was a backlog of some 3,000 permanent resident and status applications. That number has been reduced in recent months largely due to a string of marathon board meetings.
There have also been delays in the submission of business staffing plans, and Cayman has struggled for years with a backlog of work permit applications. However, Mr. Tibbetts said Friday that work permit grants were running only a month or two behind on average.
‘What has happened with the immigration boards is the work load has just gotten so great…that in the case of the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board, the work of the chairpersons of those boards, it takes them a day and half or two days a week just to deal with matters,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
In general, board members are unpaid volunteers who have jobs elsewhere. Their work as board appointees includes not only the processing of applications, but hearing concerns raised by employees and employers, organising meetings and formulating agendas.
‘It takes a tremendous amount of time,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
Ministers have said some of the work now done by the various boards could be handled by paid Immigration Department staffers, or by other offices within the government. But Mr. Tibbetts did not commit to reducing the number of boards that handle immigration and business staffing related issues.
‘Whatever can be dealt with properly administratively, certainly we would lean in that direction,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘But I wouldn’t be able to say ‘yes, that is the aim’ (to reduce the size and number of appointed boards).’
Mr. McLaughlin said there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue.
‘There are very compelling reasons why you want more civic involvement in the affairs of government,’ he said. ‘That’s one of the good purposes, if they’re run properly…that boards perform. It gives the average person an opportunity to weigh in on government matters and to help develop, effect and implement policy.’
Minister McLaughlin suggested one potential solution to the problem might actually involve increasing the size of the boards – appointing more board members to substitute for those who can’t make it to certain meetings in order to help speed things along.
‘The system needs restructuring; does that mean we’re going to get rid of the board?’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘I think that would be a step backward in terms of participation by the community.’
The current acting chairman of the Business Staffing Plan Board advised government to take a more holistic approach to solving problems of handling work permits, staffing plans and residency applications.
‘Increasing staff, increasing board members, all of those…things are just putting band-aids on the problem,’ Mario Ebanks said.
Mr. Ebanks qualified his comments by stating he was merely giving his own opinion after the Caymanian Compass sought out his comment on this issue. He said he was not voicing the opinion of the entire staffing board.
He referred to conclusions in a 1998 report called the ‘Cayman Islands National Strategic Plan’ as one way the current system might be revamped. The report suggested merging the Department of Labour, the Immigration Department and the Immigration Board into one entity.
Mr. Ebanks said streamlining the application process through the use of technology would also help bring the efficiency government requires.