A government-commissioned review of the Cayman Islands permanent residence approval system, which was completed earlier this year, has been withheld from release by the Office of the Premier.
The report, done at the request of government by outside counsel, is sought by the Cayman Compass via an open records application on July 26. The premier’s office responded on Aug. 11, before the 30-day deadline set in the Freedom of Information Law, stating it believes the information is legally privileged.
The records, the premier’s office argues, “would be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege.” The report’s release would amount to “an actionable breach of confidence” if it were to be made public, the office stated.
The Compass has filed an appeal of the premier’s office decision, asking that the matter be heard directly by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, bypassing the internal review process typically undertaken for open records requests.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has already stated that, in his view, the report by local immigration attorney David Ritch is legally privileged and was “never intended” for publication.
Mr. McLaughlin said he was planning an announcement about what changes government would make to the process of permanent residence applications and approvals before the start of the next Legislative Assembly meeting, likely to begin in late September or early October.
In September 2015, Mr. McLaughlin indicated that the Cayman Islands government would provide a full response on the issue, making changes if and where necessary to its immigration regime in the wake of an Aug. 28, 2015 court ruling that was critical of several aspects of the permanent residence system.
Premier McLaughlin said in September 2015 that government leaders were taking legal advice on what “has become a complex issue,” and that he expected to make announcements in response to the ruling in the next few weeks.
“We are taking this issue very seriously,” Mr. McLaughlin said at the time, declining to discuss specifics.
The premier also intended, at one stage, to make an announcement regarding the residency system changes in the Legislative Assembly during the recent June budget meeting. However, that was also delayed, with Mr. McLaughlin stating that government “needed to get this right.”
The issues identified in the Aug. 28, 2015 court judgment dealt with two major areas: First, the actions of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal in judging 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 two applicants were recently granted permanent residence following a re-hearing of their case.
The second matter involves the current permanent residence system and how points toward status are awarded to applicants. Currently, applicants are required to secure 110 points out of 215 available in the application process. The questions have basically arisen regarding how 15 of those 215 points are to be awarded via the process.
Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie concluded in the 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.
The judgment has served to place on hold all pending applications for permanent residence – of which there are more than 750 – while the system is sorted out. A number of those applications were filed more than two years ago.