A strange anomaly in the Cayman Islands Immigration Law makes it far easier for spouses of non-Caymanian permanent residents to obtain citizenship than for spouses of Caymanians to obtain the same citizenship.
The issue has been highlighted in a private members motion filed by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden that was due to be heard in the Legislative Assembly last month. The issue was put off until the governing body’s next meeting.
Under current Immigration Law, a non-Caymanian who receives permanent residence can have their spouse apply as a dependant on that grant of residence, essentially obtaining permanent residence themselves during the currency of the marriage.
No less than one year after that residency status is granted, the spouse is eligible to apply for British Overseas Territories Citizenship. That citizenship status allows the holder to carry a Cayman Islands passport and is the tantamount step to receiving Caymanian status.
The non-Caymanian spouse of a Caymanian, under current law, must wait seven years before applying for the right to by Caymanian. They can also seek British Overseas Territories Citizenship at that time, but that would occur seven years later.
Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo, who is seconding the motion by Mr. Eden, said his colleagues are unsure why the current law makes spouses of Caymanians wait seven years to apply for citizenship, while the spouses of non-Caymanian permanent residents must wait for only a year.
Precisely how this issue should be addressed is not set out in the motion before the Legislative Assembly.
“We want the government to fix the anomaly one way or the other,” Mr. Suckoo said. “We would prefer that Caymanians are topped up in terms of their rights and benefits.
“Either move everybody to seven years or move everybody to one year.”
Mr. Suckoo said the issue was initially brought to lawmakers’ attention by a constituent in Bodden Town, but he did not discuss specifics of the situation.
The Cayman Islands Immigration Law operates on a system of graduated rights for non-Caymanian residents, who make up roughly half of the 55,000 to 60,000 local residents in the islands.
Any non-Caymanian who is gainfully employed in the islands’ private sector must obtain a work permit to take up residence here, and that permit can only be renewed for up to nine consecutive years before the non-Caymanian must take a one year “break in stay” from their residence.
Permanent residence can be obtained in a number of ways. Typically, anyone who is the lawful spouse of a Caymanian citizen can be granted the equivalent of permanent residence as long as the marriage remains intact. Also, a non-Caymanian worker who has stayed in the islands for at least eight consecutive years can apply for permanent residence.
Once permanent residence is granted, a successful applicant can apply for citizenship and obtain a British Overseas Territories passport.
For the purposes of local law, British Overseas Territories Citizenship is not the same as a grant a Caymanian status, which confers the right to be Caymanian. Non-Caymanians can apply for the right to be Caymanian if they have remained resident in the islands for at least 15 years or, in the case of a marriage, have remained married to a Caymanian for at least seven years.