Just about everyone in the Cayman Islands has heard stories about duppies. Some may actually believe in them, too. We can assure you that yes, here in Cayman, “ghosts” do walk among us … But not in the supernatural sense.
What we are referring to are “ghost Caymanians” – hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who were born in Cayman, have Caymanian parents, possess a Cayman passport and believe they are Caymanian. But they don’t legally have Caymanian status.
One scenario that may result in the creation of a “ghost Caymanian” is the following: A husband and wife move to Cayman as work permit holders. While on island, they have a child. Later, the parents obtain official Caymanian status, and by extension the child becomes a “Caymanian by entitlement.” However, if, after reaching the age of 17 (and before the age of 24), the child does not apply for a continuation of that status from the chief immigration officer, he can lose it forever.
According to an analysis written by local immigration attorney Nick Joseph, “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. It may be that a substantial number of status grants will be required to resolve the issue.”
As Caymanian Bar Association President Abraham Thoppil highlighted last week, an added wrinkle in the issue of ghost Caymanians is that different government departments can be inconsistent in determining for their purposes who is treated like a Caymanian and who is not.
“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.
Considered in conjunction with the 900 or so candidates for permanent residence who remain in limbo while awaiting for officials to consider their applications, the existence of ghost Caymanians is evidence that the Cayman government’s immigration problems span several political administrations and iterations of the Immigration Law.
In fall of 2013, the Progressives passed a new Immigration Law implementing a “points system” to evaluate permanent residence applications. Almost immediately it became apparent that the points system was fraught with internal contradictions, vagueness and vagaries and could hardly be expected to pass muster under constitutional and international standards. The Progressives government’s “solution” was simply to refuse to consider PR applications and eventually enlisted local law firm Ritch & Conolly to evaluate the state of Cayman’s immigration regime.
Premier Alden McLaughlin is refusing to make public the so-called “Ritch report” or even to summarize its key points. The Cayman Compass is currently pursuing its release via the Freedom of Information process. In the meantime, a number of PR applicants have filed legal challenges seeking judicial redress and/or monetary damages.
Make no mistake: Premier McLaughlin and the Progressives are responsible for the current PR morass. They created it through legislation. They exacerbated it through delay. They own it. But Cayman will pay for it.
However, the flaws and cracks in Cayman’s immigration system go back for decades, since the beginning of our country’s modern history in the 1960s. Over time, because of negligence and oversight – and the conspicuous absence of the Office of the Governor – some of those crevices have widened into crevasses, and the resulting “gray areas” have swallowed up perhaps thousands of Cayman residents. The human toll is legion.
The next elections are in May. No doubt the Progressives are praying that immigration’s house of cards holds up until then. Regardless of when the flimsy façade does inevitably collapse, the results may haunt Cayman’s taxpayers for years to come.