Proposals approved more than a year ago requiring work permit holders in Cayman to be fingerprinted as a condition of their employment are still on the way, according to Premier McKeeva Bush.
Mr. Bush said the Immigration Department is also looking at the logistics involved in implementing an advanced passenger information system for those travelling to the Cayman Islands.
‘It means that airline operators will be required to provide flight manifests to immigration authorities before the flight leaves its departure point,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘We can then determine whether there are any passengers who might pose a threat to our security.’
The advanced passenger information system is an existing data collection system for passengers on commercial airlines and vessels. Depending on the country or airline operator, passengers are required to provide certain information when they check in before they are allowed to travel.
The fingerprinting proposal, approved in October 2008 by Legislative Assembly members, has not been implemented, partly because of cost.
‘Immigration is presently actively researching options with respect to fingerprinting equipment for the taking and storing of fingerprints of all foreign workers,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Although there is strong competition for funding, this is an important issue. We will do what we can to fund that initiative.’
Quite a few logistics remain to be ironed out with the fingerprinting plans. Once the changes take effect, all current work permit holders as well as those who have been granted a new permit, will be fingerprinted electronically as a condition of their employment.
Prospective workers can refuse to be fingerprinted, but that means their work permit application is likely to be refused.
Not only does the Immigration Department not have the technical capability to take and store fingerprints, it has not determined who will have access to the fingerprint database.
Deputy Chief Secretary Franz Manderson has previously indicated government would have to carefully consider whether police and customs officers would have access to that data for law enforcement purposes.
Under the current Police Law, Royal Cayman Islands Police officers cannot take fingerprints without at least a reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime. The Immigration Department database could be used to bypass that requirement.
Also, there is the practical issue of how to fingerprint more than 20,000 existing work permit holders in an orderly fashion. Fingerprinting new arrivals could likely be accomplished at Owen Roberts Airport, Mr. Manderson said.
Depending on what government decides, fingerprinting could eventually be expanded to include non-Caymanian permanent residents, foreign students and foreigners working in Cayman on government contracts.
Mr. Bush said that while his government wants to create a pro-business environment, immigration enforcement issues must be sorted out to ensure Cayman’s economy continues to thrive.
Overstaying work permits continues to be a problem in the Cayman Islands, the Premier said.
‘In the past month, the (Immigration) Department’s enforcement unit has arrested 22 persons, mainly for overstaying,’ he said. ‘In one case, a person had been living here illegally for four years.’
Mr. Bush said Cayman would continue to be an ‘open door country,’ but that immigration officials had to keep vigilant in order for it to remain so.
At the same time, the Premier said he would urge government agencies to keep a better eye on unscrupulous employers who were ‘brutalising’ foreign workers by not paying pensions, or even in some cases, salaries for their work.
‘Any company doing that has to stand the test of the law,’ Mr. Bush said.
The current government has confirmed it will pursue an employer accreditation system so that unscrupulous companies could not take advantage of incentives being offered under the new immigration regimes. Some of those incentives include longer work permits and assurances regarding applications for key employee designations.
The accreditation plan was expected to be a simplified version of what was previously proposed under the former government, whose leaders wanted to establish a tier system to rank companies’ compliance with the Immigration Law. Those who were not compliant would not be allowed to have work permits renewed.