Three-and-a-half years and three lawsuits later, the Cayman Islands government has granted a total of two people permanent residence out of close to 1,000 applications filed under the current Immigration Law.
The issue of when, how and to whom government should bequeath the right to stay permanently in the Cayman Islands has been disputed in one form or another since 2004 – when Cayman fundamentally changed its Immigration Law to create a “rollover policy” that forced foreign workers to leave after seven consecutive years living in the jurisdiction.
Since then, workers who managed to stay here longer than eight years, via key employee status or other legal means, were allowed to apply for permanent residence and have done so with varying levels of success until those grants abruptly stopped in January 2015.
The most recent issue arose later in 2015, when Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie issued a ruling denouncing certain aspects of the system government was using to grant permanent residence as opaque and “prone to arbitrariness.”
The government responded by commissioning a $312,000 consultant’s report from law firm Ritch & Conolly – known as the “Ritch Report” – which was not shown to the public, then eventually making relatively minor changes to the permanent residence “points system” used to judge applicants.
Since those changes were made in early March, there had been no word on when any of the outstanding applications from between 900 and 1,000 permanent residence-seekers would be processed.
That changed only under the threat of legal action last week when financial services manager Mark Edmunds and accountant Derek Larner were granted permanent residence status, the first two people to receive it among those who applied after the law changed on Oct. 26, 2013, making awards of permanent residence much harder to obtain.
According to local attorneys who represented the two men, the decision to grant them the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives should assist the hundreds of other applicants in moving their requests along.
“It is hoped that the processing of applications will now commence in earnest,” HSM Chambers partner Nicolas Joseph wrote to firm clients Friday. “We have written to the authorities for an indication of anticipated timing and they have responded by return that the department will commence processing of other applications very shortly.”
Immigration Department officials have made similar statements in recent weeks, but have set no firm dates for processing of any of the outstanding applications.
New PR grants
It was under the pressure of a pending judicial review proceeding that Messrs. Edmunds’s and Larner’s permanent residence applications were approved on May 11. That approval was apparently unknown to both men until after a court hearing the next day, when the two sought to have their court cases joined with claims made by a third man – accountant Bradley Carpenter – in a combined legal action. Mr. Carpenter had already been granted permanent residence under a prior version of the Immigration Law, but was seeking damages regarding the government’s three-year delay in hearing his case.
“We received formal confirmation of Thursday’s grants only after [Friday’s] hearing when we made telephone enquiries of the [immigration] secretariat,” according to HSM’s Mr. Joseph, who represented all three men in the matter.
The residence applications filed in December 2013 (for Larner) and June 2014 (for Edmunds) were both the subject of judicial reviews against what they alleged was an unfair, unreasonable and unlawful decision by the government to delay a decision on their residency status indefinitely.
The two men, as well as Mr. Carpenter, who filed a judicial review application last year, could still pursue cases against the government for damages relative to the delay. Their attorneys were uncertain on Friday as to which path they might take.
Mr. Joseph said he believed the new grants would be a positive development for the hundreds of other people awaiting word on their residency status in Cayman.
The prospect of a number of permanent residence applications suddenly coming before immigration authorities and appointed board members is set against a quickly approaching question facing voters, namely: Who will be Cayman’s next government?
Whichever political party, coalition or group of independents succeeds at the polls on May 24, it is likely that significant changes will still be made to the system that governs the grant of permanent residence to non-Caymanians who have lived in Cayman for more than eight consecutive years.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said as much during a candidates debate in Red Bay earlier this month.
“We do have to make significant changes to the [permanent residence] points system and the way points are awarded and determined,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “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.”
Mr. McLaughlin said it was still his belief that the concept of the current system is correct. However, 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,” he 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 grants.
“If elected, the first thing I’m going to do is get that Ritch Report published,” Mr. Tibbetts said. The Ritch Report 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.”
The Progressives government took a proverbial beating in several candidate debates over how it was handling the permanent residence delays.
Two Newlands independent political candidates criticized the Progressives recently, alleging mismanagement led to delays in the hearing of hundreds of permanent residence applications, delays the candidates said were “playing with people’s lives.”
Even Progressives Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton acknowledged during the Chamber of Commerce candidates forum that the delay of between 900 and 1,000 residency applications filed since October 2013 was “not fair to stay as it is.”
“There are lots of people whose lives, they feel, are in limbo, they feel they are unable to move on,” Mr. Panton said. “It has really been too long in that situation.”
Mr. Panton’s opponent, former Progressives backbench MLA and now independent candidate Alva Suckoo put it bluntly: “It’s a classic case of mismanagement.”
“The situation didn’t come up yesterday, the urgency [of it] was not addressed,” Mr. Suckoo said. “People’s lives were put on hold. People didn’t know what was going to happen. Now, we’re seeing the lawsuits piling up.”
Independent Newlands candidate Raul Gonzalez Jr. said it was difficult for him to even comment on what government should do to address the permanent residence delays because he had not seen the Ritch Report.
“They didn’t act on [the report],” Mr. Gonzalez said. “It just goes to show, they spend money on these reports, as usual, and put them on the shelves to collect dust. It’s people’s lives they are playing with.
“These are people who contribute to our society … they’re just in limbo, it’s unacceptable.”
No more status
Two of Cayman’s leading independent politicians, MLAs Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller, are on record opposing any further grants of Caymanian status to long-term local residents who do not have direct family connections to the islands, but they have not necessarily opposed security of tenure for non-Caymanian workers.
Caymanian status is a local legal designation similar to citizenship, which conveys the right to vote and other basic rights to its holders. Any permanent resident who has been in Cayman for at least 15 years and who was obtained British Overseas Territories citizenship can apply for Caymanian status.
North Side MLA Mr. Miller raised the issue in June 2016 in the context of the Ritch Report review.
“We have the review of the PR provisions in the Immigration Law to ensure non-Caymanians can now stay, get Caymanian status after PR and keep the jobs from qualified Caymanians,” Mr. Miller said. “Where is the promised immigration reform that was promised to us in October 2013 … which was supposed to tighten up on work permits and [make] other changes that needed to be made to benefit Caymanians? Let me repeat what Ezzard Miller’s position is on this: The only [way] you should be able to get Cayman status is by marriage or descent. I don’t think anybody should be able to come to my country as an economic migrant and get Caymanian status because they’ve made plenty of money,” said Mr. Miller.
East End MLA Mr. McLean said that a distinction should be made in the Immigration Law between granting someone Caymanian status and awarding them “security of tenure.”
Mr. McLean also noted his view at the time that only non-Caymanians who are married to Caymanians or who have family ties to the islands should be allowed to obtain Caymanian status.