The Cayman Islands Immigration Department collected an estimated $67.2 million in permanent residency fees between mid-2009 and last month, with fee collections averaging about $9.5 million per year from those who legally maintained that immigration status.
According to figures released by the department Friday, the current amount of unpaid residency fees – about $2.7 million – represents less than five percent of the fees paid to government over the past seven years.
“These outstanding fees largely represent individuals that are no longer living in the country or who have had their permanent residency revoked or rescinded,” an Immigration Department statement released Friday said.
Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith noted that the department was “ramping up efforts to pursue all outstanding debts” and said immigration officials considered the amounts “significant.” Yet those unpaid fees are a fraction of what the department collects on an annual basis.
The Ministry of Home Affairs annual report for 2015 revealed that the immigration department took in $89.5 million in revenues between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.
The $89.5 million represented between 13 percent and 14 percent of total central government earnings for the year.
Work permit fees collected by the government during the year – approximately $60.4 million – made up the lion’s share of the Immigration Department’s earnings. Permanent residence with the right to work fees, by comparison, made up a far smaller chunk of the department’s earnings.
The immigration department took in $89.5 million in revenues between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.
Ten years ago, during the government’s 2005/06 budget, the Immigration Department recorded $33.4 million in revenues collected. This means immigration-related revenues based on fees charged by the government have gone up about 167 percent in a decade.
Another way of looking at it is the earnings by the Immigration Department in 2015 were enough to cover the entire budget of all Cayman Islands public safety agencies, including police, fire, immigration, the 911 Emergency Centre, hazard management and the prisons service combined.
The problem with uncollected permanent residence fees was first revealed in October 2010 by Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, who told a public meeting in West Bay district that some $1.7 million in residence fees were outstanding at that time.
Like Mr. Smith, Ms. Evans stated at the time that many of the debts were considered “uncollectable,” as they were assigned to people who had left the islands as many as four years prior to that date.
It was stated at the time that workers holding permanent resident status might not realize they actually had to pay for their own fees, which are the exact same amount as a work permit fee, for the jobs they held.
Ms. Evans said the confusion was partly due to the fact that the Immigration Law requires businesses employing work permit holders to pay those annual fees for the worker. It does not require the same fee to be paid once a person has received permanent resident status. Some companies may make it their policy to pay permanent residence fees on behalf of their workers, but others do not, she said.
The situation has not changed since 2010, although Mr. Smith pointed out that in 2013, sweeping changes to the local Immigration Law allowed government to revoke the award of permanent residence based on non-payment of the annual fee. He also pointed out permanent residents with the right to work must pay the annual fee whether they are currently employed or not.
Mr. Smith also said that once permanent resident status has been revoked, an applicant cannot reapply for it at some future date.
Cayman’s grants of permanent resident status have dropped to zero within the past three years.
As of August, nearly 800 non-Caymanians had applied for permanent resident status in the Cayman Islands under the revised Immigration Law which took effect in October 2013. So far, none of those applicants have been awarded that status under the current law as legal challenges and uncertainties continue to plague the system.
According to records provided by the Immigration Department, 11 people who applied for residency after working here more than eight years were refused permanent resident status when the relevant board determined they were “not eligible.” At least one other individual abandoned their permanent residence application.
Those were the only applications to have been considered by the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board as of August.