A backlog of more than 1,100 permanent residence applications – some of which have been in limbo for three or four years – could be cleared by mid-2018 if immigration officials continue the pace they set in August for hearing those applications.

Before this month, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board was deciding approximately five residence applications per week, holding one meeting each week.

Immigration lawyers noted, at that rate, the backlog of applications from non-Caymanians seeking to remain here for the rest of their lives would be sorted through sometime around late 2020.

However, starting in August, Immigration Department administrators and board members began considering residency applications up to four days a week, resulting in an average of 30 applications being decided each week, according to records provided by the Immigration Department.

If that rate is maintained, it will take about 40 weeks to get through the residency applications that have been delayed since government stopped hearing them sometime around January 2015. So far this month, a combination of Immigration Department employees and board members have decided a total of 121 residency applications. Seventy-seven of those were approved, 37 were denied, five were withdrawn and two applications were not heard because they were filed late.

About two-thirds of the residency applications heard this month have been approved.

Before August, with the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board hearing all of the applications at a much slower pace, fewer than 25 percent of the cases heard were approved, according to Immigration Department records. Board members granted just 19 out of 80 residency applications filed between May and July.

Speeding things up

The Cayman Islands government has been under mounting legal pressure to deal with the backlog of permanent residence applications since last year, when applicants who had waited between two to four years for their cases to be heard began filing requests for judicial review.

At present, eight non-Caymanians have sued the government, seeking damages over delays in processing their requests to remain in Cayman. No hearing dates have been set for any of the cases, although three of the eight were awarded permanent resident status after they filed the judicial review actions.

All eight Grand Court legal actions stated similar claims over the residency application delays that have been troubling the process since a revised Immigration Law took effect in October 2013. The court records allege the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, as well as the chief immigration officer, have acted “unlawfully” by not considering those applications in a “reasonable period of time.”

Damages sought include interest on the amounts already paid to the Immigration Department for residence applications and ongoing permit-related fees. The judicial review applications also generally seek unspecified damages for “unwanted stress” caused by the years-long delays in processing the applications.

Work permits

While the government has pushed ahead with hearing the backlogged residence applications, a number of employment firms in the islands have noted delays in processing work permit applications have grown during 2017.

Some firms have noted an average processing time for work permit applications of around three months, others said permits were taking between eight to ten weeks to handle. The Immigration Department typically strives to process permits required for non-Caymanians to work here within 14 days.

So far this year, a much larger number of work permit applications are being handled by a reduced Immigration Department staff, leading to longer-than-usual delays in acquiring permission to work for non-Caymanians.

According to figures given to the Cayman Compass this month, 18,847 work permit applications were submitted to the department between Jan. 1 and July 31. Those applications do not only include annual permit grants and renewals, but cover a wide range of temporary permits, work permit extensions, special economic zone permits and amendments to business staffing plans. The Immigration Department reported that roughly the same number of permit applications were processed for all of 2016.

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