If re-elected, Premier Alden McLaughlin said, his Progressives government in its first year will make more “significant” changes again to the system that awards permanent residence to non-Caymanians.
Mr. McLaughlin said that work is already under way, despite the fact that changes to the Immigration Regulations announced in March as the result of a consultant’s review have already taken effect. Those changes were described by one local law firm as “largely cosmetic.”
It appears Mr. McLaughlin’s government, if they win enough seats on May 24, is looking to make some more substantive amendments in regard to permanent residence, the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life.
“We do have to make significant changes to the points system and the way points are awarded and determined,” Mr. McLaughlin said during Wednesday night’s Red Bay candidate forum at Mary Miller Hall. “It is a critical issue. It is very important to Cayman long-term. The work is already under way by my administration to resolve the issue.”
The Progressives-led government changed the Immigration Law and regulations relating to the award of permanent residence shortly after taking office in May 2013. However, the system the government implemented in October 2013 has resulted in no applicants being awarded residence and a backlog of nearly 1,000 people awaiting word on their status – some for more than three years.
Mr. McLaughlin said it was still his belief that the concept of the current system is correct. The implementation of that system has not gone according to plan, he said.
“Some of the awards [of permanent residence], particularly as they related to the training aspect and the employment aspect, the employment a particular person is engaged in … those points have been awarded on an arbitrary basis,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Opposition Cayman Democratic Party candidate Denniston Tibbetts said the public should not take the Progressives government at its word on any immigration-related issues, including permanent residence awards.
“If elected, the first thing I’m going to do is get that Ritch Report published,” Mr. Tibbetts said, referring to a $312,000 consultant’s report completed by the Ritch & Conolly law firm. The document has guided the government in the process of amending some of its rules for permanent residence applications, according to the Premier.
Both Mr. McLaughlin and Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick have sought to prevent the report from being disclosed to the public which funded its creation.
“I see no reason why the present government and the governor has denied the public,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “The government paid all kinds of money for that report.”
Mr. Tibbetts said every single permanent residence applicant he has spoken to in the past several years have all had their applications denied.
“This government has chosen to raise the barriers,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “When [the applicants] have fulfilled what the government terms nine years [of continuous residence] they’re still denied. The whole thing has to be revamped.”
Independent Red Bay candidate Frank McField also argued on Wednesday that the whole system for granting residence in Cayman should be rewritten.
“[The system] has normally favored one economic group,” Mr. McField said. “But all the people that come to this island and who contribute through working as work permit holders should be treated fairly. There should not be easier access to PR … simply because of the economic function one performs.”
Work permits authority
As he did during the 2013 campaign, Premier McLaughlin pledged that the Progressives government would seek to create a central public authority for the processing of work permits and other immigration applications.
The move would effectively take control of work permits away from the Immigration Department.
Mr. McLaughlin said such a specific authority would focus on a two-fold task of speeding up immigration applications and ensuring that Caymanians get first dibs on any jobs being offered.
“I do not think we can safely say that is the case now,” he said.
Mr. Tibbetts again questioned Mr. McLaughlin’s promises: “It’s four years on now and its not been done.”
Mr. McField argued for the simplification of a system that he said had moved far away from its original intent.
“The [work permit job] categories is an attempt by the government bureaucracy to use the importation of labor as a revenue source,” Mr. McField said.