A government-appointed board will begin considering a backlog of between 900 and 1,000 permanent residence applications sometime next week, according to the Ministry of Immigration.
Applicants may be contacted by the Immigration Department as early as next week if further details are needed to process their cases, ministry officials said.
“I am pleased the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board and immigration leaders have stepped up to the challenge and together have developed a plan for resolution that looks to guarantee a high level of speed and efficiency in dealing with applications going forward,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said in a statement Thursday.
The requests from non-Caymanian residents to remain here for the rest of their life have not been heard since at least January 2015 due to legal uncertainties surrounding certain criteria government had set for applicants.
The previous Progressives-led administration approved changes to the British territory’s Immigration Law that took effect Oct. 26, 2013. The changes included a revamped permanent residence scheme that made it harder for individuals to qualify.
A few applications were processed under the 2013 version of the law, but none was approved, and eventually concerns expressed by the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board members, and later by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, halted the processing of applications entirely.
Board Chairman Waide DaCosta said Thursday that his members would begin hearing residence applications in the order received.
“The intention is to process them as quickly as practical, while ensuring that each application is given proper consideration,” according to a government statement.
Ministry Chief Officer Wesley Howell said going through close to 1,000 permanent residence applications is not a quick or easy task. Many of the applications are hundreds of pages long with detailed information about each applicant’s job, education, training, salary, personal finances, community involvement activities and investment in the country, among a host of other areas.
Mr. Howell said certain measures would have to be taken to “overcome various human resources and other challenges,” associated with processing the documents.
“The Department of Immigration has reassigned staff members and has recruited Caymanian university graduates to advance the processing of applications,” he said. These additional workers will review the applications initially and prepare them for the board’s review, he said. Immigration staff will also shadow board members for training purposes.
Mr. Howell said the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board has only eight of 11 members currently serving and three more will need to be appointed. Those positions will be filled “shortly,” he said. It will be up to the newly elected Progressives-led coalition government to appoint the immigration-related board membership.
“I would … like to thank all of the applicants, their families and their employers for their patience during this time,” Mr. Howell said. “I want to reassure them that we are working hard to resolve this matter.”
The Immigration Department has not set any specific schedule to indicate how long it will take to hear the backlogged applications, but it previously indicated a general plan for dealing with the hundreds of requests pending.
According to a department statement released in late March: “Applicants who have been waiting longest will have their application dealt with first.”
Before any application is considered by the department or the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, the applicant will be given an opportunity to update any information in the initial application.
The deadlines for submitting updated information will depend on when the application was submitted, after Oct. 26, 2013, when legislative changes to the Immigration Law creating the new permanent residence “points” system took effect. It is believed that the vast majority, if not all of the residence applications submitted before that date under the prior Immigration Law, have been dealt with, although some may still be going through the appeals process.
“After the deadline for the submission of information passes, the department will aim to have reached a decision on the application within 30 days,” the immigration statement reads.
Immigration officials hedged the 30-day deadline by stating that the processing of more than 900 applications requires time and resources if the applications are to be given the “appropriate degree of scrutiny.”
The points system used to judge each application has changed somewhat since it was first passed in October 2013, although those changes were described by one local law firm as “largely cosmetic.”
It also appears, based on the government’s announcement Thursday, that no further changes would be made to the points system which would affect current applicants who are waiting to have their cases heard. Premier McLaughlin has hinted at future changes to the points system, but has said that issue would warrant further consideration.
The biggest change from the prior regulations governing the granting of permanent residence is that all applicants, regardless of what job they now hold, will be given full points (15) for their current position. Previously, the system awarded between zero and 15 points based on an applicant’s job category.
However, the new regulations, which were approved on Feb. 28 by Cabinet, make no mention of what government intends to do with its “priority occupations” list described in the law. Priority occupations are specifically designated jobs which are considered to be especially important or desired in the Cayman Islands economy. If an applicant for permanent residence holds one of those jobs, the regulations allow them to receive up to an additional 15 points for their occupation.
At this stage, it is assumed that all applicants will receive no points under the priority occupation designation, since no jobs have been listed as priority occupations.
Two people who applied for permanent residence under the current system, financial services professional Mark Edmunds (applied in June 2014) and accountant Derek Larner (applied in December 2013), were awarded that status under threat of significant damages claims against the government over delays in hearing their applications.
Those men and a third claimant, accountant Bradley Carpenter, who sought residence under the pre-October 2013 residency application system, are still pursuing damages claims because of the lengthy delays in considering their applications.
There were other permanent residence applicants who filed for that status before Mr. Larner and Mr. Edmunds, but it appears the government took those two men “out of turn” as a result of the litigation they had filed.
HSM Chambers partner Nicolas Joseph suggested in letter to immigration clients last week that a number of other permanent residence applicants might have to take the same path in order for their matters to be heard.
“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,” he said. “For reasons that we do not know, it appears clear that no actual progress is being made in relation to anyone’s applications.
“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 letter outlined the steps HSM clients might take to engage in a class-action lawsuit against the government, first by having the firm write a letter to the relevant authorities on their behalf, then filing for judicial review before the Grand Court if the letter is not answered within a certain time.