With the exception of the Cayman Islands, all British Overseas Territories will repatriate the issuing of their passports to the United Kingdom starting in January.
Local government officials said last week that Cayman would continue to use its current stock of passports and start repatriating the passports to the U.K. around May 2015.
“We’re still not certain that [date] would materialize,” Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans said Thursday in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee. “There is a lot of work to be done.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin said previously that the Cayman Islands has rejected any options involving the replacement of the passports bearing its name with U.K. passports, but indicated that the territory didn’t really like any of the proposals made regarding the issuance of new passports with biometric identification chips from the U.K. Currently, Cayman Islands passports issued locally do not contain biometric ID chips.
East End MLA Arden McLean questioned officials Thursday on how long it might take to get a Cayman Islands/British passport back from the U.K. once the new scheme is implemented.
“England has been horrendous in their ability to process passports, even for their own people,” Mr. McLean said. “Right now, the British passport is taking three to four months.”
Premier McLaughlin said the length of time it takes is actually more like two to three months, but the repatriation issue remains a concern to local officials.
“We have made representations about this [to the U.K.],” the premier said. “[We’ve asked] the U.K. passport office to accept facsimiles of Cayman Islands passports. If they agree with our proposal, they wouldn’t have to be sent the Cayman passport.”
Mr. McLaughlin hopes that Cayman Islands passport application information can eventually be transmitted to the U.K. via secure emails, without the need for local residents to send their passports away. During a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council in early December, the U.K. presented its territories with four options regarding the issuance of passports following December 2014.
The first option involves the Cayman Islands submitting securely transmitted passport details through an automated computer system to the U.K., which would then print the passport and issue it directly to the passport holder.
A second option involves the transmission of that data via non-automated systems. A third option would be starting with non-automated systems and eventually transitioning to the fully automated data transmission. All passports issued under these options would still bear the Cayman Islands name.
In all cases, issuance of emergency travel passports would be done in Cayman from already existing, non-biometric passport stock.
However, keeping additional passport stock in Cayman for emergencies – even after the U.K. begins issuing the passports in December 2014 – would cost money. Moreover, it is not known how long the United States will continue to accept foreign passports that do not contain biometric chips.
Another issue long-term is that the providers of the laminate for the locally printed, non-biometric emergency passports will no longer produce the laminate after the next batch of passport stock is ordered, meaning the territory’s current stock will eventually run out anyway.
Emergency passport issues can sometimes be a “life and death” matter, according to the premier.
The automated information systems required to work with the U.K. passport printing system could cost in the range of $4.5 million to $5.5 million, according to Mr. McLaughlin. If no other overseas territory wishes to go that route in cooperation with Cayman, the premier said Cayman would be forced to bear the full cost itself.
A fourth option, retiring Cayman Islands passports and replacing them with British passports, would not be accepted, Mr. McLaughlin said.