Emergency passport issue unresolved

The Cayman Islands will run out of its current non-biometric passport stock within two years, but what local and United Kingdom leaders intend to do to replace those once the passport printing process is repatriated to the U.K. remains unclear.  

The issue is more complex, and more crucial, than it may appear on the surface. First, the U.K. has faced a series of delays in completing the passport repatriation process. Second, the Cayman Islands – and other overseas territories – are uncertain what they will do in the future if emergency passports have to be issued to territorial citizens and their current passport stock has run out.  

“Until the [U.K. passport] repatriation is complete, the Cayman Islands Passport Office will continue to manufacture Cayman passports from its current stock,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday. “But stocks are running out and, indeed, may be finished by the time the U.K. implements its new system, so there is no room for any further push-backs.” 

The U.K. has further delayed its planned centralization of passport processing until May 2015. That deadline initially had been set for this month. In February 2014, the premier reported that Cayman had about two years’ worth of emergency passport stock held locally. New U.K.-issued passports will contain biometric identification data. The current Cayman Islands/British Overseas Territories passports do not.  

Biometric identification refers to identification of the physiological characteristics of an individual, such as fingerprints, palm prints, facial recognition, DNA, retinal identification and odor/scent identification. Not all those characteristics will be recorded on the biometric passport data, but some will.  

Issuance of emergency travel passports is done – at least for now – in Cayman from existing, non-biometric passport stock. However, keeping additional passport stock in Cayman for emergencies – even after the U.K. begins issuing the passports – would cost money. Moreover, it is not known how long the United States will continue to accept foreign passports that do not contain biometric ID chips.  

Emergency passport issues can be a life and death matter, according to the premier, in instances such as when an older person whose passport has expired must fly to the U.S. or Jamaica for urgent medical care.  

Legally speaking, the only citizenship issued in the Cayman Islands is British Overseas Territories citizenship. A Cayman Islands passport conveys that citizenship. The designation of Caymanian status conveys “belonger” status to the individual holder in Cayman, but it is not recognized internationally as a citizenship designation. It is possible to have Caymanian status and not British Overseas Territories citizenship and vice versa.  

The U.K. Home Office has agreed to sent “a small number” of officials involved in the passport repatriation project to Cayman in early 2015 to assess the situation, Mr. McLaughlin said.  

Mr. McLaughlin also reiterated Cayman’s position that the territory’s name would remain on the passport once the printing and distribution is returned to the U.K. Other overseas territories, such as the Falkland Islands, have agreed to accept British passports as replacements for their own.  

In order to do this, Cayman would have to procure a computer system capable of sending passport information of its citizens to the U.K.  

“We expect that [the cost of the new system] will be substantially less than the figure originally estimated [between $4.5 million and $5.5 million],” Mr. McLaughlin said in February.  

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