The Cayman Islands Immigration Department closed the books late Tuesday on what may have been its busiest 48-hour period in the past decade.
On Monday and Tuesday, the department processed nearly 1,200 non-Caymanian workers staying here on Term Limit Exemption Permits, and, according to Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, most of those workers chose to have their extension permits approved through Dec. 9.
After that date, the workers will either have to apply for and receive a new work permit, apply for permanent residency or leave the Cayman Islands for at least a year before returning to work.
Not all the outstanding Term Limit Exemption Permits have been resolved. Of the 1,465 Term Limit Exemption Permits that were current as of Monday, 155 remained to be processed as of Tuesday evening, Ms Evans said.
However, that number was believed to be manageable, and Ms Evans said anyone who came to the Immigration Department Wednesday, Thursday or Friday this week could still have their term limit exemption extended through Dec. 9.
“We plan to be very flexible this week,” she said. “Although anyone remaining here on a Term Limit Exemption Permit that expired [Monday] is overstaying.”
Overstaying is a criminal offense under Cayman Islands law.
After this week, Ms Evans said, immigration enforcement officers would be likely to take a different view of workers who are here on expired term limit extensions.
The Term Limit Exemption Permits, first granted in October 2011, allow any non-Caymanian worker whose seven-year term limit in the islands expired between Oct. 28, 2011, and Oct. 28, 2013, to remain up to an additional two years in Cayman. Under the previous Immigration Law, they would have had to depart the islands for at least a year.
According to changes to the law approved last week by the Legislative Assembly, any non-Caymanian worker, including those on Term Limit Exemption Permits, who stayed in Cayman for at least eight consecutive years is eligible to apply for permanent residency – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life.
Difficultly arose when the Term Limit Exemption Permits, more than 1,500 of them at the time, were due to run out all at once. Legislators last week agreed to extend the deadline for a further 45 days.
Of the 1,286 Term Limit Exemption Permit holders processed by the Immigration Department on Monday and Tuesday, more than 1,000 had their term limit exemptions extended until Dec. 9. Chief Immigration Officer Evans said a small number of those people had no current employer. They were given visitors’ extension permits for long enough to get their affairs in order. In addition, some workers chose to take a 90-day visitors’ permit and leave Cayman, rather than accept a term limit extension and apply for another work permit.
A handful of people married Caymanians before the expiration of their Term Limit Exemption Permit and therefore had to have their immigration status changed.
Ms Evans expected far less hassle for visitors to the Immigration Department headquarters building than was experienced on Monday, when a line longer than a city block formed around the outside of the building.
The Immigration Department opened a temporary processing center at Red Bay’s Mary Miller Hall on Monday and Tuesday to help sort out all the permit extensions. Ms Evans said that while there were some delays at department headquarters Monday, things ran smoothly both days at Mary Miller Hall.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said, all things considered, the Immigration Department did very well in a tight spot.
“[Monday] was a very busy day for immigration staff,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “While some people had to wait outside for a while at headquarters, the system was fair and efficient.