Some Cubans living in Cayman since the mid-1990s have a strong chance of becoming permanent residents of the country.
The issue involves a group of migrants, possibly as many as 200 or so, who are facing the possibility of expulsion from the Islands because their immigration status was never regularised.
The story of how they came to be here is long and complex. Some fled from their homes for political or socio-economic reasons. Others had family members who migrated here who then went back home, leaving their families in Cayman.
In 1994, a ruling of the Cayman Islands Executive Council (now known as Cabinet) allowed Cubans with family connections in Cayman to return and remain in the country without obtaining a work permit. Former council member and current Opposition party leader McKeeva Bush said the understanding at the time was that those who stayed long enough would have to apply for permanent resident status in order to remain.
‘It was accepted by government,’ Mr. Bush told the Legislative Assembly in September. ‘At that time, we were importing people from the region and all over the world.’
Some of those Cuban nationals who remained in Cayman did apply for and received permanent resident status, the right to live in Cayman for the rest of their lives. Others, for whatever reasons, did not and were being told under the current immigration law that they would have to depart if they were not granted permanent residence.
The problem was most of the Cubans staying here under the old Executive Council order couldn’t meet current requirements to obtain permanent residence.
Cayman’s Immigration Law (2007 Revision) now requires those who apply for that status to be awarded it on a point system. Applicants are awarded points based on various things such as property ownership, volunteerism, connections to Cayman and the like. Points can also be taken away for things like poor health, or bad personal character.
If a person is awarded 100 points, they are granted permanent residence in most cases.
Mr. Bush made a private members motion before the House last year that asked government administrators to take steps to rescue these Cuban-Caymanians that effectively had no immigration status from expulsion.
‘They have been here for a long time,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘I believe the government can find a way to remedy the situation.’
The remedy set down in Immigration Regulations in March would give any Cubans granted permission to reside in the Cayman Islands by the Executive Council’s order a chance to earn up to 100 points on their permanent residence applications, most by virtue of their Caymanian connections.
All those affected by the ExCo order would have to apply for residence before 17 March, 2010.
Under the application’s point system, a Cuban national who is the parent, spouse or child of a Cayman and was granted permission to reside here by the Executive Council’s order would be given an automatic 100 points…all but guaranteeing they would be granted permanent residence if they applied by the deadline.
Eighty points would be awarded to Cuban applicants granted permission to reside here by ExCo in the 1990s if they were brother, sister or grandparent to a Caymanian.
The ruling government agreed with Mr. Bush’s motion in September and said it was just a matter of determining how to regularise the Cuban-Caymanians’ immigration status.
‘It is a difficult situation for them,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said, adding that if their immigration status is not resolved there may be nowhere for them to go.