Cayman’s immigration system, including its various processes for permanent residence and Caymanian status applications, is helping neither local workers nor the economy, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Thursday.
In a statement sent to the Cayman Compass, Mr. Bush noted that an Aug. 28 ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie served to emphasize the need to make changes now to the territory’s immigration legislation.
“The [permanent residence system] as passed by the People’s Progressive Movement is discriminatory, particularly so against people of the Caribbean,” Mr. Bush said. “It does not work and it is hurting both sides [referring to Caymanian and expatriate workers.]
“It must be that a balance can be found where our people must be employed without any form of discrimination and persons who are living here long enough [have] the same right as anyone else once they are legally here and behaving themselves. It is time for the PPM to accept that they are wrong.
“The Immigration Law [2013 Revision] has to be changed now to allow people and businesses to survive for the sake of [the] country.”
The issues identified in the chief justice’s August judgment dealt with two major areas: First, the actions of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal in two cases where non-Caymanians had applied for permanent residence – the right to remain in the territory for the rest of their lives – in which the tribunal’s actions were determined to be a “miscarriage of justice.” Those applications were made under a former version of the Immigration Law.
The second matter involved the current permanent residence system and how points toward that status are awarded to applicants.
Chief Justice Smellie concluded in his judgment that there were “immediate and obvious concerns” about the current two-tiered system for awarding permanent residence applicants a total of 15 points for their occupation and another 15 points if their job is considered a “priority occupation,” according to regulations attached to the Immigration Law.
“It is difficult to imagine a policy that could be more opaque, uncertain and prone to arbitrariness than one by which points are to be allocated to occupations based upon merely subjective assessments of their importance in the context of the local economy,” the chief justice wrote in his 40-page judgment.
Government officials contacted this week said the current immigration processes are being reviewed in light of the judgment, but that no final decisions have been made. Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday that his government is taking the chief justice’s ruling “very seriously” and plans to make some announcements relative to it in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush said he took particular issue with one of the cases referenced in the judgment that involved a Jamaican national whose permanent residence application had taken nearly a decade to wend its way through the system. That case has now been sent back to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal for a new hearing.
“I know people who were here 20 years, had a house and were refused permanent residence under this regime,” he said.
The chief justice’s ruling cited what Mr. Smellie described as “unconscionably long delays” in hearing that particular case. Michelle Hutchinson-Green’s residency application was submitted in November 2006 and was not finally rejected by the appeals tribunal until October 2013. During that period, the Immigration Law was amended more than 10 times, the judgment stated.
“And each time they changed the law, it made things worse,” Mr. Bush said.