The issuance of U.K. biometric passports to the British Overseas Territories, including the Cayman Islands, will take center stage at a preparatory meeting for territory leaders to be held in Cayman this week.
The annual pre-Joint Ministerial Council meeting is set to begin in Cayman Wednesday, with attendees from Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and Montserrat.
The meeting precedes discussions with U.K. government leaders and territorial political leaders set for December in London.
Several Caribbean territories have expressed concern about the issuance of emergency passports once the overseas territories’ travel documents go biometric. That means locally held passport stocks in the territories, which are non-biometric, will be made useless.
“Overseas territories members are concerned about the impact on their residents who seek emergency medical travel, putting at risk in particular the very young, elderly and those who may not have valid travel documents,” a statement from Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office read.
The Cayman Islands has about two years’ worth of emergency passport stock.
Mr. McLaughlin said earlier this year that Cayman Islands passports issued by the U.K. would continue to bear the territory’s name following the repatriation of passport printing back to Britain.
The premier said it was also agreed that the Cayman Islands will retain control of sending passport applications to the U.K. and then distributing them to residents once the travel documents are returned.
The method of getting passport information transmitted securely to the U.K. has also been a subject of some debate in the repatriation of passports back to England. The British had initially set a deadline of December 2014 for this to occur, but recent reports indicated that was pushed to May 2015 for Cayman and local immigration officials insisted even that date might prove problematic.
Cayman Islands residents who possess United Kingdom passports have already run into very lengthy delays for renewals or the issuance of new passports for children in recent months as the repatriation of passport printing has put a strain on British passport office resources.
It was revealed in Legislative Assembly last month that Caymanians who hold both British and overseas territories passports recently found themselves stranded on the islands without any valid travel documents while awaiting the renewal of their British passports.
According to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson: “[There is a] requirement for them to send their Cayman passport, which then leaves the Caymanian with no travel documents. Everything was going fine until there was a considerable backlog [in the British passport office] and now it’s taking many, many months for the passport to be issued and returned.”
Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s office recently noted that it’s not just a problem specific to Cayman.
“Governors from across the Caribbean overseas territories have made representations to Her Majesty’s Passport Office about the practice of submitted original [overseas territories] passports to support applications for U.K. passports,” said head of the governor’s office Gary Benham. “We expect to hear something from [the passport office] soon.”
Mr. Manderson said he believes the territories had some success in convincing the U.K. to ease requirements of having to send local travel documents, along with the British passport the applicant is seeking to renew.
Although nothing had been announced yet, Mr. Manderson said he was hopeful the changes “will be in terms of [Caymanians] not having to … send our documents over to the U.K. when we want to get a British passport.”