Government is owed more than $4 million in unpaid permanent residency fees, some dating back seven years, according to data from a citizens’ freedom of information request.
In the FOI response, the Department of Immigration indicates that it considers $2.7 million of that amount “uncollectible,” due to revocations or rescindments – though it does not explain why this would prevent them from chasing the money.
The money owed relates to 473 individuals with permanent residency fees in arrears for between one and seven years.
Of those, 74 have had their permanent residency status revoked for continued non-payment, the response indicates.
The information comes from a Freedom of Information request filed by a group calling itself the Cayman Citizens Alliance.
The response from immigration states that it is sending debt collection letters and emails and making phone calls on a daily basis in an effort to recover the money.
Permanent residency fees vary according to profession. PR holders are required to pay annual fees on a schedule that parallels the work permit fee schedule. Accountants, for example, would be required to pay between $10,400 and $13,650 each year, depending on the sector they work in. A stenographer would pay $2,100.
The immigration department did not respond to further questions on the data, its procedure for following up on unpaid fees or why it considered $2.7 million of the fees as uncollectible. A request for clarification from the FOI manager is being processed as a second freedom of information request, which gives the department at least 30 days to respond.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson contributed to a debate on the issue on Facebook, saying that the statistics do not tell the full story, and cautioning against a broad public sentiment that those who do not or cannot pay should be deported.
He said government collects millions each year from PR holders and suggested the delinquent rates were actually starting to come down.
He said permanent residency holders were having their status rescinded in some cases. But he said the individual circumstances are often complex, pointing out that many PR holders have Caymanian children and have made long-standing contributions to society and deserve to be treated in a “firm but fair” manner.
“There can be no doubt that the privilege of becoming a permanent resident in our beloved islands comes with responsibility,” he wrote.
“One of those responsibilities is paying for the right to work. When those fees are not paid, then action must be taken and we have seen that action has been taken.”
He added that permanent residents are people who have been judged to be of the highest character, have given back to the community and have invested in the islands.
“They have lived here for as long as 20 years. They have taught our children in schools, cared for our sick and elderly, and many of them have close Caymanian connections, including Caymanian children. Would we really be calling for the mass deportation of these persons if we knew these facts? How many Caymanian children will be left without a father or mother?”
Mr. Manderson sought to absolve elected representatives of responsibility for the issue, saying the matter rests with civil servants and the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board. He did not respond to additional questions from the Cayman Compass.
Community Affairs Minister Osbourne Bodden, who also contributed to the Facebook debate, told the Compass he was concerned about the statistics. He said the elected government had done its job by amending the law to allow PR to be revoked for non-payment of fees and clarifying that the fees are owed regardless of whether a person was employed.
“We do not need, and we should not tolerate noncompliance. It is not fair on others,” he said.
“We also certainly do not need those here who can’t afford it as they will become a burden on our social welfare system. We expect this to be sorted sooner rather than later.”
Nick Joseph, a lawyer and partner with HSM Chambers who specializes in immigration, said there have clearly been abuses by permanent residency holders who have not kept up with the required payments.
He said the Immigration Law allows the Permanent Residency Board or the chief immigration officer to start the process of revoking PR status once someone is in arrears for 90 days in payment of prescribed fees. But he said the $4 million figure may be inflated by legitimate disputes over whether fees were legally owed, and if so, by what amount.
Before October 2013, the law required PR holders to pay the fee only if they were employed. This was changed in 2013 to require all PR holders to pay the fee applicable to their approved occupation, whether or not they were working.
The revised law has a transitional provision that states that nothing in the new law should impact the rights acquired under the previous version of the law.
He said it is likely that some PR holders who had been granted permanent residency before 2013 had taken the view that the fees did not apply to them if they were no longer working, a seemingly legitimate legal argument, according to the lawyer.
He said errors and differences of opinion over what fee was due were also likely in the context of the convoluted fee schedule which contains, for example, three different fees for accountants, depending on which sector they work in.
“Persons with permanent residence are mobile within the economy and it seems perfectly possible and appropriate for persons to change industries, with resulting scope for confusion or honest disagreement as to whether fees are in fact due,” he said. “The law also contains provisions that can lead to circumstances where the parent of a Caymanian child, or spouse of a Caymanian may legitimately believe that no fee is in fact due in relation to their ability to work in the Cayman Islands.”