The reasons government leaders initially gave for the establishment of the Cayman Islands term limit policy on foreign workers’ residence apparently did not apply to the British Overseas Territory at the time the so-called “rollover policy” was introduced into local legislation.
That bombshell was delivered last week in a lecture at the VC Tutorial center by attorney Sophia Harris, one of the island’s foremost authorities on Immigration Law and chairman of the territory’s Immigration Appeals Tribunal.
“In open and public statements, the public was advised that under the European Convention on Nationality, which we were told was applicable to the Cayman Islands, third-party residents in a country for 10 years or more were entitled to citizenship…” Mrs. Harris told about 25 people attending the speech at the Pasadora Place business on May 13.
“It appears that this was, in fact, never the case and the convention did not apply to Cayman,” said Mrs. Harris, who is also the managing partner of the Solomon Harris law firm.
“This was the basis for justifying the rollover policy, not only during the campaign to introduce the rollover policy into law [during 2003], but indeed up until relatively recently,” she said.
In its initial proposals to extend Cayman’s term limit on foreign workers’ residence from seven years to 10 years, the ruling Progressives party said it believed 10 years was the maximum time the territory could possibly extend the “rollover” without running afoul of international conventions. The term limit was eventually extended to nine years last October.
When pressed about the convention’s application to Cayman, Mrs. Harris indicated that legal research into the question had been done and this was the answer that was received. High-ranking civil servants, who did not want to be identified for this article, indicated that the attorney general’s chambers had researched the question.
Mrs. Harris said the information had been “known” for about the last 18 months, but was never announced publicly.
During her address, Mrs. Harris compared the adoption of the term limit policy into Cayman Islands Immigration Law to what had occurred in Bermuda, the first British Overseas Territory to adopt a term limit policy for resident non-nationals.
“Cayman [adopted] Bermuda’s immigration rollover policy almost verbatim, expect for one critical, if not fatal, point: Bermuda’s rollover policy was just that, a policy, and it was never enshrined in legislation,” she said.
Bermudian law did not, and does not, contemplate any path to citizenship for non-Bermudians. Prior to the “rollover” changes, Cayman had dealt with the issue of citizenship by first placing a “moratorium” on the grants of Caymanian status. That ended in 2001, when the moratorium was challenged in court and was abolished. At one stage, there was provision for a quota in place regarding how many individuals could gain permanent residence/status rights each year, but government never implemented it.
Cayman lawmakers approved the territory’s first term limit policy in late 2003, setting the “rollover” period at seven years and requiring a two-year “break-in-stay” before non-Caymanian workers could return to employment in the islands. The law took effect in January 2004.
“It is without a doubt that Cayman then went through one of the most tumultuous phases that impacted not just how business was done in Cayman, but affected the lives of workers in Cayman and, in fairness, affecting some Caymanians also, perhaps in a way that most were never prepared for and certainly never anticipated.
“Whatever one’s views are of the rollover policy, the adaptation of the rollover policy into law was approved by both of the existing [political] parties at the time,” Mrs. Harris said.
In its manifesto ahead of the 2013 general election, the United Democratic Party [now the Cayman Islands Democratic Party] supported the abolishment of the term limit entirely. The Progressives supported an extension of the term limit from seven years to 10 years in their manifesto during the 2013 campaign.