Claiming the Cayman Islands immigration system needs a “drastic overhaul,” the head of one of the territory’s major lawyers groups said there is still considerable confusion in determining the legal definition of a “Caymanian.”
That confusion could lead to hundreds of residents, particularly younger Caymanians who know no other home, being denied rights and services available to other naturalized citizens of the territory, the attorney said.
Caymanian Bar Association President Abraham Thoppil said Wednesday that “even government departments” appear to be inconsistent in determining someone’s Caymanian status.
“The consequences range from the issue of whether a child may benefit from free medical treatment to Caymanian ownership of local businesses or to the most fundamental of constitutional considerations,” Mr. Thoppil said.
Caymanian status [a locally recognized legal resident status similar to citizenship in an independent country] is not automatically conferred on someone as a result of their having been born in Cayman. Other factors that are considered include the immigration status of a parent at the date of the person’s birth, the marital status of the person’s parents and where the parents were “domiciled.”
“These can be convoluted and technical issues to navigate,” a response from the Bar association received Thursday indicated. “It is often difficult for persons who have not been granted the right to be Caymanian after the age of 18 to prove that they are, in fact, Caymanian.”
It is actually possible for a young person who once had Caymanian status to “lose it” on their 18th birthday. A child of two Caymanian parents who immigrated to Cayman and who received Caymanian status after arriving here would usually be considered Caymanian “by entitlement.”
According to the Immigration Law, those individuals are expected to apply for continuation of that status after reaching age 17, and preferably before they turn 18. If they fail to apply for continuation of that status, they are “seemingly not Caymanian,” according to the Bar association’s analysis. A section of the Immigration Law allows those individuals to apply and receive that status up until age 24, but if they do not do so, legal problems may ensue.
Nicolas Joseph, a partner at the HSM Chambers law firm, has researched this issue for years. According to Mr. Joseph, the gap has resulted in a number of younger Caymanians thinking that they have maintained that status after reaching the age of majority, when in fact they have not.
“It appears to me that numerous persons who were Caymanian by Entitlement [receiving Caymanian status prior to reaching age 18, via their parents] may not be applying for continuation as prescribed/required by law,” Mr. Joseph said in a separate analysis he wrote to the newspaper in November 2015. “I do not know what is becoming of them, but they may be adding to what we in immigration circles refer to as ‘ghost Caymanians’ i.e. persons who believe they are Caymanian, or who are in any event treated as Caymanian, but who are as a matter of fact (and law) not Caymanians.
“We have for some years been seeing an increase of such persons who seem to be here with no express immigration permission, and may have fallen through the cracks,” Mr. Joseph continued. “It may be that a substantial number of status grants will be required to resolve the issue.”
Mr. Joseph said the number of “ghost Caymanians” could be anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand.
The issue can arise in particular when someone is applying for a job and claiming Caymanian status. They present their birth certificate and their British Overseas Territories passport as proof of status, but in reality, neither one officially proves one holds Caymanian status.
If these individuals apply to the chief immigration officer for acknowledgement of their right to be Caymanian, they could be turned down if their status was not regularized, Mr. Joseph said.
This problem is seen within some government departments which, according to the Bar association, “appear to have formulated their own mechanisms, other than requiring … formal acknowledgement from the chief immigration officer” to determine whether a person is Caymanian.
“The result can be a variation in treatment and the risk of determinations (either way) by persons in various government departments who may not be properly equipped to make correct determinations with the accuracy and consistency which might be expected on such an important issue,” the Bar association wrote.