Far more than the 437 people originally reported by the Cayman Compass are currently awaiting government decisions on permanent resident status under the Cayman Islands revised Immigration Law.
According to the Immigration Department, as of July 1 there were 437 people residing in Cayman who had been given “permission to continue working” under the new law while they await the results of their residency applications.
However, Nicolas Joseph of HSM Chambers said that permission applies only to non-Caymanians who have resided in the Cayman Islands for more than nine years – in other words beyond the term limit on residence normally set for them.
Mr. Joseph said there would be numerous permanent residence applicants who have sought that status during their regular tenure on island and would not yet have been required to seek special permission to continue working. Also, any non-Caymanian government employees who have applied for residency are not subject to the territory’s term limit requirements and so would not need the Immigration Department’s permission to continue working as long as they still had a valid contract.
Another factor that could significantly increase the number is that many applicants for permanent residence are likely to have family members with them who would be considered dependants, or who also might be working under their own permits.
“On this basis, there are likely substantially more than 437 persons directly affected by the backlog that is described,” Mr. Joseph said.
The Compass has reported that 10 months since the passage of the Cayman Islands revised Immigration Law in October 2013, not a single application for permanent residence under the new legislation has been heard.
Acting Deputy Governor Eric Bush said previously that the government is waiting for all permanent residence applications filed under the former Immigration Law to be dealt with prior to hearing files under the new law, which has been in effect since Oct. 25, 2013.
Members of the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board said uncertainty over how to score applications under the revised Immigration Law have made it impossible to fully score any prospective permanent resident under the new points system created by regulations to the law. The current system requires an applicant to earn at least 110 points to qualify for permanent residence – the right to live in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
The Immigration Law also was changed with regard to permanent residence applicants’ ability to remain in Cayman. Previously, any residency seekers who went beyond their normal term limit were automatically given permission to remain while their application was being considered. Now, anyone applying for permanent residence who has reached their ninth year in the islands must apply for “permission to continue working” while awaiting a decision on that application. That decision is at the discretion of the chief immigration officer, or her designate, meaning it is not automatically granted.
Whether the applicant is required to leave the islands if not granted special permission to keep working is a matter of legal dispute.
“The law is unclear,” Mr. Joseph said. “However, a permission to continue working is only a permission to continue working. It is nothing overtly to do with residing. Any interpretation that requires an applicant to hold a permission to continue working to merely reside [in Cayman] is fraught with difficulty.”
Under the new Immigration Law, even if an application for permanent residence is denied, the applicant still receives 90 days to stay in the islands in order to settle their affairs.
It might be challenging for many permanent residence applicants to afford to stay in Cayman while awaiting the outcome of their case without continuing full-time employment. However, if a person was legally resident at the time they applied and can support themselves while the application is being processed, the government could run into human rights issues if they try to simply force people to leave, Mr. Joseph said.
“If, win or lose, [the applicant] can stay, and [the applicant is] here when [they] applied, it would seem entirely nonsensical for persons to be forced to leave in the gap simply because they are not working and can otherwise support and maintain themselves and their dependents,” he said. “The human rights considerations are potentially immense.
“It is, of course, usually not the applicants’ fault these issues are arising. It is most often delays in the effective processing of applications entirely beyond the applicants’ influence or control which are creating the problem.”
No such continuous residency case under the new revised Immigration Law has been tested before the Cayman Islands courts.