Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson announced earlier this year that outbound immigration services would be eliminated at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman by September.
It hasn’t happened yet, and according to immigration officials, it’s not a question of when but a question of if those outbound checks can safely be removed.
“There is an aim to enhance or redesign the way that existing [outbound passenger controls] are done,” said Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith. “There is no guarantee that it will actually occur, but it is the government’s desire.”
The issue with bottlenecks in outbound immigration checks at Owen Roberts was identified more than two years ago by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, which received multiple complaints from visitors about how long it was taking to get through security checks and immigration control during peak travel times.
Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans said at the time that there was no funding available to hire extra staff for the outbound immigration checks.
For outbound immigration issues, Mr. Smith said the Advanced Passenger Information System is used to pre-clear “probably 95 per cent of genuine travellers”.
“Once we get this system fully online and live, there should be no queuing as there currently is today,” he said. “We realise the good name that Cayman will get from the passenger experience, they don’t have to rush to the airport; that is desirable.”
However, immigration officials are not convinced the “human factor” at the outbound immigration checks can be totally eliminated without leading to “unnecessary risks” for immigration officers.
Mr. Smith gives a scenario where someone buys a ticket to travel within an hour or so of a flight leaving and who might not be identified by the APIS system until the plane is already in the air. If that individual had a court hold on them for a crime in Cayman, but immigration officers don’t know about it until after they leave, it could create an embarrassing situation for the department, he said.
“How do we identify that [a person] who should not travel today, should not travel. How do we identify you are on a watch list?” he said. “If officers are there and you present yourself, then we have you in front of us. Whatever system we have, risk mitigation has to be a part of it.
“The airline needs to say ‘what is the shut off point’? Without those kinds of arrangements … we run the risk of persons departing that shouldn’t depart.”
Mr. Smith said he is sometimes asked why Cayman simply can’t just let suspected criminals leave and put the problems in another jurisdiction’s court, so to speak.
“The criminal justice system doesn’t work that way … we have a responsibility to ensure that court orders are complied with and we enforce that,” he said.
In any case, Mr. Smith said the department is keen to work out a system where minimal time spent in the waiting line for passengers is coupled with no risk of illegal departures from Cayman.
“We can’t have any less control, [outbound immigration is] just going to be done in a different way.”