Since the programme’s inception during the 2008/09 government budget year, the Cayman Islands Immigration Department has collected $785,000 in “administrative fines” for various immigration-related violations.
The programme hasn’t been widely heralded and has actually caught some offenders by surprise when they report to immigration and find their offences can be handled outside of court.
“What a lot of people have found out is that once it’s dealt with administratively, it’s not really considered where you have a criminal record, as if it went to court and you were found guilty,” said Garfield “Gary” Wong, deputy chief immigration officer. “However, the Immigration Department still has the right to put sanctions on an individual who has committed an offence and has been fined administratively.”
Mr. Wong said the administrative fines were created as a way to alleviate the sheer number of immigration-related violations that were going before the local courts and backing up the system following a huge growth in work permit grants in the years after Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004.
“We’ve seen a large increase in people working outside the terms and conditions of their work permits; also a large increase in overstaying,” he said.
Working outside the terms of a permit can mean either the permit holder is performing a different type of job than the one they are allowed to hold or that they are working for a different employer than the one stated in the permit.
Those types of violations amount to roughly 60 per cent of the administrative fine cases immigration officers handle, Mr. Wong said. Overstaying – remaining in Cayman without any legal right to do so – is also a common violation handled administratively.
If a person accused of immigration-related violations does decide to pay an administrative fine, they must agree to waive their rights to take the case to court.
Also, the lack of a criminal conviction does not mean someone will not face sanctions or punishment from the Immigration Department, at the department’s discretion, Mr. Wong said.
Sanctions include being barred from entering Cayman for a certain period or having a work permit reviewed or cancelled.
Fines for administrative offences can be quite high. Mr. Wong said on the first offence, a fine can be between two to three times the annual fee charged for a work permit; on a second offence it can go up to three to five times the cost.
After the second offence, fines or a court appearance are up to the Immigration Department. Some offences, such as marriages of convenience, must go to court and cannot be handled administratively.
Annual revenues collected by the Cayman Islands Immigration Department more than doubled within five years between the government’s 2005/06 budget year and the 2010/11 year.
In the 2005/06 government financial year, the Immigration Department recorded a total of $33.4 million in revenues collected between 1 July, 2005, and 30 June, 2006. By the end of the 2010/11 budget year on 30 June, 2011, revenues have increased to $70.2 million.
That’s an increase of about 110 per cent in yearly earnings for the department.
Immigration revenues for the current 2011/12 fiscal year appeared to be set for an increase again, the report showed. No figures were made available for the 2012/13 budget year.