An appeal of permanent resident status that lay dormant for more than seven years after it was initially rejected has finally been awarded to the applicant in the case, a former staffer of the Cayman Islands governor’s office.
According to Randall Martin, partner of the Dinner Martin Attorneys law firm on Grand Cayman, his client Rhonda Wolfe’s application for permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of her life – was denied in January 2009.
Ms. Wolfe worked at the Hyatt until after Hurricane Ivan hit and then worked for six years, between 2005 and 2011, as the governor’s house manager on Seven Mile Beach. She later started her own concierge services company.
The specific reason the application was first denied was never given, Mr. Martin said.
Ms. Wolfe’s initial application earned 98 points under the previous permanent residence system, two points shy of what was required at the time. However, Mr. Martin pointed out that the relevant immigration board did not award Ms. Wolfe any points for her nationality – she is Irish – when she was due to earn 20 points for that nationality under the prior system.
“The only rationale the board gave was that they exercised their discretion to give zero points in that category,” Mr. Martin said. “The lack of transparency as to how they exercised that discretion is, in itself, unreasonable.”
An appeal of the case was filed before the Immigration Appeals Tribunal in February 2009. It is unclear what caused subsequent delays over the next five years, but in 2014, Mr. Martin’s firm took up the matter and filed new grounds of appeal, leading to a fresh hearing of the facts before the tribunal in August 2016.
Ms. Wolfe was granted permanent resident status last month, after more than 15 years of continuous residence on the islands.
When the appeals tribunal heard the case, members awarded her 121 points for the application, 23 more than she had been given for the 2009 application. Mr. Martin said Ms. Wolfe’s nationality was counted among the points awarded at the appellate stage.
“I never thought this day would come and I am so grateful to those who encouraged me to be patient and wait it out,” Ms. Wolfe said. “[Cayman] has been my home for so long and I couldn’t imagine starting over somewhere else.”
Ms. Wolfe said she is “excited” that she will now be able to apply for naturalization as a British Overseas Territory Citizen and ultimately for Caymanian status.
“We were very pleased to get the desired result for Rhonda,” Mr. Martin said. “This is a great sign that the [appeals tribunal] is moving forward with the pending appeals and making the right decisions in light of the Chief Justice’s recent judgments. We hope that similar appellants like Rhonda will soon get the justice they are seeking.”
Unlike other cases that have recently come to light before the courts, Ms. Wolfe’s case was never the subject of a Grand Court challenge and was decided by the appeals tribunal.
The judgment referenced by Mr. Martin was an August 2015 ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, now considered to be a landmark case with regard to Cayman Islands Immigration Law.
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 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 granted permanent residence following a rehearing of their case earlier this year.
The second matter involves how points toward permanent residence are awarded to applicants. Under the current system, applicants are required to secure 110 points out of 215 available in the application process. Question have arisen regarding how 15 of those 215 points are to be awarded via the process.
Chief Justice 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, in effect, to place all pending applications for permanent residence on hold while the system is sorted out.
There are more than 750 applications pending under the current Immigration Law, several of which were filed more than two years ago, in 2013 and 2014.