Premier Alden McLaughlin’s recent enunciation of concerns with how Cayman Islands residents can obtain British travel documents evoked a mild frenzy from some people quick to suggest vast U.K. conspiracies.
While this newspaper has taken stances against undue British influence on matters such as police wiretapping and financial regulations, frankly we don’t see anything sinister about the U.K.’s intention to centralize the printing and issuing of British, or British Overseas Territories, passports.
The U.K.’s plans have been discussed for years, although the December 2014 deadline is new.
Currently, people in Cayman applying for full British passports obtain them from the U.K. However, people in Cayman applying for British Overseas Territories passports (the ones with “Cayman Islands” on the cover) can obtain them from the Passport Office on Elgin Avenue.
Because of understandable concerns over security, the U.K. plans to discontinue allowing its disparate territories, including Cayman, the right to issue passports at the end of next year. Thereafter, all British subjects – be they Caymanian, Bermudian or Welsh – must obtain their British passports from the U.K.
The U.K.-issued passports contain chips with biometric data on the holders, while the Cayman-issued ones do not.
That difference is important because while the U.S. now allows people to enter the country with the non-biometric Cayman passports, the U.S.’s future implementation of biometric passport requirements is a question of when, not if. When the U.S. begins demanding passports with biometric data, Cayman passports won’t be worth the paper they’re locally printed on.
The U.K.’s passport centralization program does not appear to be singling out Cayman in any way or to be infringing on Cayman’s freedom to self-govern on domestic matters. Things such as work permits and status grants don’t stand to be affected at all.
Foreign countries recognize a Cayman-issued passport not because “Cayman Islands” is emblazoned on the front cover in gilt letters, but because of what the passport states on the inside of the front cover: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance …” etc.
Holders of Cayman-issued passports travel under the protection of the British Queen, not the Caymanian House Speaker or Chief Immigration Officer. International travel is clearly the realm of the U.K. government, not Cayman’s.
However, that does not mean Mr. McLaughlin’s concerns over the shifting passport regime are invalid.
On the contrary, Mr. McLaughlin correctly identifies the most problematic possible conundrum: the inability of people in Cayman to obtain passports immediately in case of emergency. What happens if an elderly stroke victim – or prematurely born baby – needs to be airlifted to Miami for a life-or-death procedure but doesn’t have a valid passport?
The interim solution is for Cayman to retain a stockpile of passports to issue in critical situations. That doesn’t solve the problem of U.S. biometric standards or what happens when those Cayman passports run out.
No matter where the passports are printed, or what they say on the front, the long-term solution needs to include a mechanism for the emergency issuance of passports in Cayman.
While the situation of Cayman-issued passports warrants attention, we just do not see any basis for allegations of diabolical machinations by the U.K.
In this particular case, the problems posed by U.K. and Cayman passports appear to be ones of practicality and security, not ideology.