Before the Cayman Islands government began hearing backlogged permanent residence applications last month, more than 1,100 people had applied for that status, according to figures obtained via open records.

Figures reviewed by the Cayman Compass show that between November 2013 and May 2017, an average of 25 residence applications had been received or were “being processed” each month by the Immigration Department.

However, the number of applications filed within the past year increased significantly compared to previous years.

Between June 2016 and May 2017, an average of 35 applications were filed each month, according to immigration records. More than 40 were received each month in January, February, April and May.

Starting June 22, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board began holding weekly meetings – on Thursdays – to wade through the residence applications. Those filed first are considered first, so the board started with applications dated late 2013.

During the first month of hearings, 20 applications were either approved or refused by the board. Another 13 applications were “deferred,” meaning they will be brought back before the board for re-hearing at some point.

Another four applications were withdrawn during the month and three others were not heard after the board determined they had been filed late.

The board has dealt with 27 applications, including the withdrawals and late filings, in its first four weeks of hearings.

At the current rate, it will take approximately 163 weeks (three years, seven weeks) for the board to get through the backlogged applications if it holds hearings once a week for all 52 weeks of the year. That estimate does not count any new residency applications filed since June.

Local immigration attorney Nicolas Joseph of HSM Chambers “guesstimated” earlier this month that if five or six new permanent residence applications were filed each week, government’s once-a-week hearings wouldn’t make much of a dent in the current backlog.

“The rate of determinations is plainly going to have to increase dramatically if potential claimants are going to be persuaded that all possible is being done to get through the backlog,” Mr. Joseph said.

Seven people have now filed for judicial review against the government since last year over delays in their residence applications, including the most recent challenge that was submitted to the Grand Court on July 7.

Three of those applications have already been granted. The individuals involved are pursuing damages claims against the government.

How did we get here?

In October 2013, the Cayman Islands government changed the way it processed permanent residence applications, which involve non-Caymanians seeking the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives.

The new system made residence generally more difficult to obtain, but it also sought to provide greater clarity for applicants via a revamped points system that governed the award of resident status. Uncertainties over how board members or immigration officials should award points in that process led to a delay of at least two-and-a-half years in board hearings. During that period, no new applications were considered.

During that delay period, a number of legal challenges were filed and, in once such case, a verdict by the chief justice questioned the legality of some of government’s methods in determining residence applications.

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