“Soon come” has come and gone for the roughly 1,000 people with pending applications for Cayman Islands permanent residency.

For years, the Cayman Compass Editorial Board has called for government to resolve issues related to those applications and clear the burgeoning backlog. With each day that passes, legal liability and human rights problems only grow more urgent.

Now, local attorneys are instructing clients in how to engage in a class-action lawsuit against the government for delays in processing their permanent residency applications. Who could blame them? After all, the only two PR applications that have been approved under the 2013 Immigration Law were those of men who, instead of waiting patiently, took their cases to court.

In a letter to his firm’s legal clients late last week, HSM partner Nicolas Joseph wrote that while litigation should never be undertaken lightly, it may be the only realistic path forward for PR applicants who have been stuck in limbo, sometimes for years.

“There seems to be an ‘invisible hand’ preventing progress,” the letter stated. “Whose it is, and where they sit, is yet to be understood or determined.”

The government’s reasons – stated or speculated – for delays are no longer relevant. Narrow legal issues with the points system were resolved months ago – and should have been resolved years ago. The election in May put to rest any concerns about political blowback from certain swathes of the country’s voters.

As Mr. Joseph wrote, “Although clear utterances have been made that applications are being progressed, and even that requests for updates are being sent out, we have seen no actual evidence of this. For reasons that we do not know, it appears clear that no actual progress is being made in relation to anyone’s applications.”

Meanwhile the U.K. (meaning Governor Helen Kilpatrick and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) has been content to sit on the sidelines – even though many British citizens are trapped in this quagmire, and despite a Privy Council decision outlining that immigration applications should generally be considered within one year. We understand the U.K. prefers to let certain policy matters, such as immigration, fall into the remit of Cayman’s government, but London has been far too inactive on this issue for far too long. Cayman’s “PR limbo” is a violation of human rights that puts the public treasury at risk.

Fresh off his successful re-election campaign, Premier Alden McLaughlin has named the issue a top priority and has promised to “sort out immigration generally.” We trust and expect he is earnest in his commitment. However, rather than embarking upon a “comprehensive” (and thus interminable) immigration review, we urge the premier to separate out the PR backlog for immediate resolution.

Yes, Cayman’s overall immigration system – and how it interacts (or doesn’t) with local employment efforts – is a problem … but the PR quagmire is a crisis.

Premier McLaughlin has stepped forward to take ownership of the PR issue. However, that does not exonerate the entity that is directly responsible for considering, or refusing to consider, PR applications – the politically appointed, and supposedly independent, Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, chaired by local attorney Waide DaCosta.

For years, we have warned about a potential torrent of court actions that could be (justly) filed by aggrieved PR applicants. We have never argued that the board should grant PR status to all applicants (or any particular applicant), but that the board is obligated to act in a timely manner – according to the law. And yet, throughout this time, Mr. DaCosta has been unwilling to comment or provide explanation on the record for his board’s behavior.

It’s been more than three years since the problem was created (via the passage of the 2013 Immigration Law), three months since the government ostensibly fixed it (by tweaking the points system) and 30 days since the two permits were approved (for the two men who sued).

Still, some 1,000 PR applicants and their family members are living in uncertainty, with no clarity about their future on island, no instructions to stay – or depart – and no indication about when they will receive an answer.

Regardless of whether the government decides to do the right thing, or the court is forced to make the decision for them, PR applicants deserve those answers. Not soon, but now.

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