EDITORIAL – It may be easier to get PR; we will see if it’s any faster

Last week, the country received word that Cabinet had finally made long-awaited, and long-overdue, changes to Cayman Islands immigration regulations, in response to critical flaws in the permanent residence system that had been highlighted more than three years ago.

Initially, we were optimistic that the announcement was a sign that government was about to unlock the gates of the immigration system and begin processing the more than 900 PR applications (at last count) that have piled up since the Progressives administration overhauled the immigration law in October 2013.

There are humanitarian, legal and financial reasons for acting swiftly. Hundreds (and after factoring in dependents of PR applicants, perhaps thousands) of lives have been hanging in limbo, as applicants have neither security of tenure, nor definitive instructions to depart, nor even a time line for decisions.

According to prevailing assumptions about international human rights standards, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify refusing to grant people permanent residence the longer they have lived and worked in a country, with the benchmark being 10 years or more. With the passage of time, more and more of Cayman’s PR applicants are surpassing that benchmark. That threatens to take control over permanent residence decisions out of the local government’s hands and into the international court system.

More recently, local and international courts have sent clear messages that immigration applications are to be considered within an appropriate amount of time – according to a U.K. Privy Council decision, within one year – or else public officials (i.e., the Public Treasury) could be held liable for financial damages. Hundreds of Cayman’s PR applications have been pending for one year or far longer. As the clock ticks, the potential legal bills to Cayman’s taxpayers grows.

We remain hopeful that government’s intention is to address the PR backlog immediately, regardless of the ongoing political campaign season leading up to the May 24 elections. However, in the several days since the announcement of Cabinet’s changes to immigration regulations, doubts have begun to arise that perhaps the changes are not so significant as they appeared to be.

Esteemed immigration attorney Nicholas Joseph, a partner at HSM Chambers law firm, described the changes as “largely cosmetic,” adding that they would, at least, not negatively affect most applicants.

In an email to PR applicants, Mr. Joseph mirrored our sentiments as to how we wish the immigration situation will be concluded (i.e., sooner than later). He said, “From what we gather, it will be a combination of the [Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board] and Immigration Department administrators who will be making assessments and it is hoped, therefore, that this will mean that the backlog is dealt with quicker than may otherwise have been the case.”

One substantial change is that Cabinet has resolved a major sticking point in the PR system – the “points” allocated to various professions – in the simplest way possible: by doing away with it entirely. From now on, “butchers” won’t get 11 points, and “surgeons” 8 points. Everyone will get the maximum 15 points. (Why that simple decision has taken this government years is, frankly, beyond us.)

Those extra few points may serve to tilt the scales for PR applicants who are on the cusp of the threshold of the 110 points needed for an application to be successful. That is, of course, assuming their applications are ever considered.

As it stands now, the Progressives government appears to have lowered the price of admission to Cayman’s “PR club.” But until officials actually start processing applications, the doors remain closed, chained and locked.

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