The bureaucratic process associated with the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law will stall requests for the release of an immigration consultant’s report (also known as the “David Ritch report”) for at least several more weeks, the Cayman Compass has been informed.
The report, presented to Premier Alden McLaughlin and Attorney General Sam Bulgin earlier this year, provides a review of the current system by which non-Caymanian workers can obtain permanent resident status in the Cayman Islands. The review and subsequent policy decisions surrounding what government should do with its recommendations has put on hold the approval process for residency applications for the time being.
As of last month, nearly 800 people who have been legally resident in the islands for at least eight years, had applied for permanent resident status since October 2013 and were awaiting a decision on their resident status. A few hundred have been awaiting word in their applications for more than two years.
Government officials in the premier’s office initially refused the Cayman Compass’s request for the immigration consultant’s report, which was penned by local immigration attorney David Ritch.
The records, the premier’s office argued, “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 appealed the premier’s office’s decision directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office, given that Premier McLaughlin had previously stated that the immigration consultant’s report would be withheld from public release and that it was “never intended” for publication.
FOI Law regulations state that “where the minister made the initial decision [on an open records request] no internal review shall be conducted and an appeal lies to the information commissioner.”
However, Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose – to whom no open records request was ever sent – but who essentially serves in the civil service chief officer role for the premier’s office, has determined an internal review of the Compass open records request is required in this case.
In correspondence with the Information Commissioner’s Office, Mr. Rose said “there is no evidence that the premier made the initial decision.”
“[The premier’s office information manager] followed best practice by seeking the assistance of the information manager for the Cabinet Office….and worked very closely with her to ensure that she applied the correct exemptions and correctly drafted the response to the applicant,” Mr. Rose wrote. “I am therefore satisfied that the initial decision was taken by the information manager in the Office of the Premier.”
Mr. Rose will conduct the internal review of the request for the permanent residence report, expecting to have a response by Sept. 8, he said last week.
Following Mr. Rose’s anticipated denial of the open records request, an appeal will be made in the Information Commissioner’s Office.
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.
The issues identified in the 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. 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.