Premier Alden McLaughlin said Tuesday that the Cayman Islands must “sort out” the British territory’s immigration problems during his second term as the government’s leader.
“There are significant problems there on a whole range of issues,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “From leadership, personnel issues, obviously issues with permanent residence, issues with the speed and efficiency with which work permits are dealt with.
“We’ve got to sort out immigration generally.”
In the new government, the premier has been given direct responsibility for a newly formed Human Resources Ministry that includes the Immigration Department and the National Workforce Development Agency.
During a Tuesday press conference announcing the formation of the Progressives-led coalition government’s Cabinet, Mr. McLaughlin said he anticipated that the government would create a “human resources department” that would deal with “all aspects of employment in Cayman,” including the approval of work permits and finding jobs for unemployed Caymanians.
The mechanism to do so, the premier said, was already in place. He said it required a rethinking of the role of the Immigration Department in the country’s labor process.
At some stage, Mr. McLaughlin said, the law enforcement function of the Immigration Department may be hived off to another ministry, but he said that would encounter some difficulties at the moment.
“It’s not as convenient and as easy as you might think to say we’re going to carve off that bit of immigration,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
One of the issues the premier acknowledged about a reorganization of the Immigration Department is that the agency has been without a permanent leader since December 2014.
Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans was suspended on Dec. 1, 2014 in relation to an internal investigation of allegations of administrative wrongdoing. The outcome of that probe has never been made public, and Ms. Evans’s status with the department has never been regularized. She has been on paid leave since her suspension was announced.
Ministry Chief Officer Wesley Howell said Monday that Ms. Evans remains on paid leave and Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith continues to fill the leadership position.
Ms. Evans’s attorney, Graham Hampson, has repeatedly declined to comment on his client’s behalf.
While government ministers are not allowed to directly involve themselves in civil service hiring matters, Premier McLaughlin indicated Tuesday that he was not pleased with the current situation regarding the Immigration Department leadership.
“I’m not sure we’re much closer, based on what I’ve been told, to resolving that than we were a year ago,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The system does take far too long sometimes to resolve these sorts of issues.”
In addition to Ms. Evans’s situation, the department has been rocked by scandals in the past year that include a corruption investigation into the administering of English language testing for work permit holders and the arrest of one of its senior officers for allegedly harboring an undocumented immigrant.
The premier’s new Human Resources Ministry will also have to decide how to address the backlog of more than 900 applications for permanent residence from long-term non-Caymanian residents of the territory.
As of press time Tuesday, two people had been granted permanent residence – the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives – under the current Immigration Law and the residency process it sets out.
Both of those individuals had filed judicial review actions against the government over the two-and-a-half to three year delays in hearing their applications.
The two grantees, along with a third man who also took legal action against the government over a delay in his permanent residence application, are still pursuing damages claims against the government over the delay.
The Immigration Department previously set out a process for hearing the backlogged applications, but no date was ever set to resume hearings for those cases.