No jobs are ‘priority,’ officials determine
Legal uncertainty that prevented applications for permanent residence in the Cayman Islands from being heard for more than a year has been resolved, and new applicants will be asked to sit tests for PR in the coming weeks, government officials confirmed Monday.
In some cases, changes to the permanent residence “points system” – which determines whether a non-Caymanian applicant will qualify to reside in the islands for the rest of their lives – will make it easier to obtain that status. Cabinet approved changes to the Immigration Law’s regulations on Jan. 6, and the changes were made public late Friday.
A key difficulty involved in Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board’s delay in hearing permanent residence applications since October 2013 was that Cabinet members had not designated any jobs as “priority occupations” under the points system.
Home Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Eric Bush said Monday that no jobs would be awarded “priority” designation for permanent residence-seekers who applied after Oct. 26, 2013 – when the Immigration Law was changed – through calendar year 2014. If a Cabinet decision is made later on to classify some jobs as priority applications during 2015, it would likely not be retroactive, Mr. Bush said.
The changes to the PR points system, which were outlined in the Government Gazette on Friday, do not require Cabinet members to publish the list of priority jobs, even if one is created, leaving it entirely to elected ministers’ discretion as to whether the list should be made public.
Local immigration attorney Nicolas Joseph, who reviewed the changes on Friday, noted certain mid-range pay jobs, such as nursing and teaching, which are vitally important to society, might not qualify for permanent residence under the current system without the priority occupation designation.
“[The lack of priority job designations] may result in any nurse or teacher who had the misfortune of applying within the last 14 months not getting permanent residence,” Mr. Joseph said.
Hundreds of permanent residence applicants who sought that designation since October 2013 have been awaiting word on when their applications might be heard. Whether those prior applications would be decided under the points system created at that time or under the revised system made public Friday is unclear.
Mr. Joseph, whose firm HSM Chambers handles a number of permanent resident applications, said he hoped government would not “disadvantage” the earlier PR applicants by not including some of the more favorable terms included in the rewritten points evaluation system.
“It does … appear to us that anyone with a pending application ought to be permitted to update his or her application to the extent that they are advantaged by these changes,” he said. “Our preliminary assessment is that points are generally more readily available under this system than they were under that in place between Oct. 26, 2013, and Friday.”
For instance, changes to the point system seek to clarify and ease the process by which non-Caymanian property owners are scored on their local investments.
The formula now in the points system requires applicants to report their total investment in property, or in a local business, and divide that number by 40 percent of their total salary earned in the past five years, then multiply that number by 30. A maximum of 30 points would be awarded for anyone who has more than $500,000 total investment.
Aside from making it simpler, in cases where a property is owned jointly by spouses, the total investment will be counted. Under the previous system, the total investment was divided in half for married couples, presumably under the assumption that those couples had split the costs of paying for the home, apartment or business.
In the former points system, a couple who had invested $200,000 in a home over five years would get credit for only $100,000 investment when one of them applied for permanent residence. Under the new points system, the full $200,000 investment would “count” and the combined income of both spouses would be applied in the points calculation.
In the case of non-married couples who jointly own property, points are awarded for the percentage of the investment held in the permanent residence applicant’s name only.
The requirements for the total amount of savings an applicant must maintain have been reduced drastically in the new points system.
Previously, to receive the full 15 points under this section, an applicant’s savings had to total 5 percent of their aggregate salary over five years. If the applicant’s aggregate salary was $250,000 [$50,000 per year] over the five-year period, for example, they would have to maintain a bank balance of at least $12,500 to receive the full points.
Under the new system, the bank balance is based on a percentage of the aggregate salary over the last 12 months. In that case, the same person making $50,000 a year would have to maintain just $2,500 in an account to qualify for the full 15 points under that section.
Mr. Joseph wondered about this change, particularly, since the Immigration Law’s regulations request that “written evidence must be provided of [the applicant’s] savings at [a] local financial institution for a period of five years preceding the application.”
“Why would they need to know that if it’s not used in the [points] calculation?” he asked.
A number of local attorneys and immigration-related professionals raised questions since the introduction of the October 2013 points system regarding whether certain volunteer activities that non-Caymanians often undertake in the islands would count toward community service on permanent residence applications.
There were concerns that volunteering, particularly at environmental and animal protection groups, might not be counted at all.
Applicants will now receive up to 1.5 points on their scoring criteria for each year [with at least 35 hours of service] spent “volunteering for non-profit, charitable or voluntary organizations.”
Permanent residence-seekers will have to take a 40-question test as part of their application, which, if they ace it, could give them another 20 points toward PR.
However, the new points system puts in place strict time limits during which that test must be taken. The initial date given by immigration, going forward, will be within 30 days of the filing of the application. The applicant may reschedule only once.
If applicants fail to take the test within 30 days, they will receive “zero” points toward permanent residence, according to the regulations.
Mr. Bush said this timeline will not apply to individuals who have filed for PR during 2013 and 2014 and who have not yet been notified of their test date.
“Immigration has a positive duty to inform the applicants of their test date and as the applications weren’t being heard [last year], they hadn’t done that yet,” he said.