The Cayman Islands government’s key justification for immigration policy changes over the last decade was, in fact, dead wrong.
As highlighted by Immigration Appeals Tribunal chairman Sophia Harris, the European Convention on Nationality — which states that foreigners are entitled to citizenship in countries where they’ve lived for 10 years or more — did not extend to Cayman, despite government’s repeated assertions otherwise, starting from the crusade to roll out the “rollover policy” in 2003, and continuing until fairly recently when legal research set the matter straight.
Astonishingly, we are now learning that even the United Kingdom itself is not a signatory to the European Convention on Nationality. If that is indeed the case, how could local politicians ever concoct the scenario that Cayman was bound, by proxy, to the tenets of the Convention?
Which leads us to inquire:
How is it possible for the government of a country to have been so utterly incorrect about a legal issue so fundamental to the country’s economy and culture?
Attorney General Sam Bulgin says his chambers’ position “has always been” that the convention didn’t apply; then why not make that fact known at some point since 2003?
Why did our British administrators responsible for international agreements, including the Governor (at the time, Bruce Dinwiddy) and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, allow Cayman politicians to promote such a consequential fiction?
Further, it is now clear the current government has known about this deception for well over a year — the evidence is buried in the fine print in a June 2012 committee report. Why did the government not publicly admit its error all the way through the 2013 political campaign and election, as well as last year’s complete overhaul of Cayman’s Immigration Law?
It is impossible to quantify how much Cayman has suffered as a result of government’s misinformation, which engendered the most divisive piece of legislation in the modern history of these islands, dividing Cayman into two distinct communities: locals and expatriates. The blunder also was the driving force behind the UDP government’s mass approval of status grants in 2004, and has contributed to continued economic uncertainty, instability and social animus in the country.
The passage of Cayman’s rollover legislation in 2003 was based on the premise that foreign workers must have their residency in Cayman “interrupted,” lest they reach the 10-year threshold and be entitled to permanent residence and citizenship.
This foundational assumption apparently was untrue, and consequently hundreds of companies have sent thousands of their best employees packing based on this misconception.
Local attorney Sherri Bodden-Cowan, who led efforts to craft reports on the term limit issue in 2003 and 2012, says government considers the 10-year period an “international norm” rather than a treaty obligation — or as the 2012 report stated, a “persuasive authority” rather than a “binding authority.” This swivel is most unsatisfying.
Someone in the government — possibly the attorney general, premier, governor or FCO representative — needs to provide clear answers to the following questions:
- What international conventions do apply to Cayman?
- According to international obligations, how many years must a person reside in Cayman before being entitled to citizenship (20, 30, 40)? If there is no number, please say so.
- And finally, if the U.K. signs human rights agreements, economic agreements, or any other international agreements, do they, or do they not, extend to U.K. overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands?