Thousands of applications for permanent residence or other immigration-related statuses, some of which were pending for nearly a decade, have been cleared from the Immigration Department’s books following final adjudications by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal.
Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose confirmed this week that about 180 applications for permanent residence, challenges to work permit denials or refusals of Caymanian status applications remain to be heard by the appeals board. Mr. Rose estimated that, at one time, the tribunal had 3,900 cases pending regarding these matters.
Many of those cases had already been heard by one of Cayman’s three immigration-related boards and had reached the appeals tribunal stage. A few have proceeded from that point to the Grand Court.
Since revisions to the Immigration Law took effect in October 2013, another 350 people have applied for permanent residence and another 200 are estimated to have applied for Caymanian status. However, those numbers do not come close to the application backlog Cayman saw during 2006 and 2007, when more than 3,500 people were awaiting word on residency status.
“I don’t think we’ll see those types of backlogs again at all,” said Immigration Appeals Tribunal Chairman Buck Grizzel, who added that tribunal members, who are volunteers, had been meeting twice a week to clear up the work for a number of months.
Mr. Grizzel said the changes in the Immigration Law in 2013 make it an offense to file a “frivolous” appeal to the tribunal and noted that measure has significantly reduced the number of appeal applications the appointed body is receiving.
“[Under the previous law] they could just pay a $250 fee, file an appeal and stay in Cayman until it was decided,” Mr. Grizzel said.
The 3,900 appeals backlog number quoted by Mr. Rose was reached in 2009, Mr. Grizzel said.
Even by late 2011, Cayman’s Immigration Appeals Tribunal reported that it was struggling with a backlog of more than 1,600 cases – a few of which dated from 2004 – as it tried to wade through various work permit, permanent residence and Caymanian status applications.
Work permits are required for all foreign workers living in Cayman. Permanent residence allows foreign nationals the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives, and Caymanian status is the final step toward becoming a Caymanian or, in legal terms, obtaining “belonger” status within the territory. Applicants for all three of those permitted statuses have the right to appeal decisions of the various immigration boards that make them to the tribunal.
According to former chairperson of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, the backlog problems began with the introduction of Cayman’s seven-year term limit on residency for foreign workers – known locally as the rollover policy. That term limit has now been extended to nine years.
“The number of appeals [has] significantly escalated since the introduction of the legislation introducing the rollover policy,” said then-Immigration Appeals Tribunal chairperson Sophia Harris during an interview in late 2011.
The first iteration of the term limit, which took effect in January 2004, allowed any foreign workers who had resided in Cayman for at least five years to apply for permanent resident status. Normally, a foreigner would have to remain in Cayman for eight years in order to apply for that status.
Appeals tribunal statistics show a sharp jump in the work permit appeals backlog beginning in 2006, and in 2007 the same thing happened with permanent residence cases. The tribunal in 2011 had more than 768 appeals of work permit denials, and more than 683 appeals of denied permanent resident status that were filed between 2008 and 2010.
Ms. Harris said that, during that period, the appeals tribunal was totally overwhelmed and was struggling to apply the rules of the pre-rollover immigration system to the current one.
Her comments were supported by the release of government’s Internal Audit Unit report review of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, completed late last year.
“Our audit has assessed that [a number of tribunal] deficiencies may be due to the lack of personnel designated to perform independent reviews and monitoring of compliance with the provisions of the law and best practices,” the audit found. “We also noted inefficient work practices which are compounded by inadequate staff resources to handle the work load.”
Many of the non-Caymanian workers remaining in the islands while awaiting rulings on their permanent residence or work permit applications were previously given the status of “working by operation of law,” which meant they could remain working in the territory pending the outcome of their application and any subsequent appeals.
Applicants for permanent residence must now obtain a “permission to continue working” from the chief immigration officer in order to continue working. [*] Editor’s note
[*] Editor’s note: Corrected from the original version.