EDITORIAL – Immigration consternation

The dysfunction in the Department of Immigration is becoming unbearable, indeed intolerable. The “labor function” of the department, namely who gets work permits, how long the process takes, and how long the workers get to remain in their jobs is becoming an existential problem for the business community which — need we remind anyone — is the economic engine of these islands.

Almost inconceivably, the department has been operating without a permanent “CEO” since 2014. Bruce Smith has been serving as “acting” chief immigration officer for the last three years, since Linda Evans was suspended without explanation (but full pay and benefits). (What on Earth, other than perhaps building Camana Bay, takes three years?)

Also on leave (again with full pay and benefits) is Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Jeannie Lewis, while she faces court charges of violating, of all things, immigration laws.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Garfield “Gary” Wong has his own legal affairs to navigate, as his trial on charges of careless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol continues to crawl its way through court. (The precipitating incident took place in December 2013.)

Then, earlier this week, Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers took the Immigration Department to task in not-so-subtle terms: “The department’s refusal to provide reasons for withholding the [documents requested] can only be described as willful, egregious and unlawful,” labeling the department’s nonperformance as a “blatant lack of respect for the laws of the Cayman Islands.”

May we ask a simple question: Who is in charge here?

On Wednesday, Premier Alden McLaughlin apparently had had enough. He appointed three new chairmen of three separate immigration boards, including the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, replacing Mr. Waide DaCosta, who had been in his post for the previous eight years.

On Mr. DaCosta’s watch, more than 1,000 permanent residency applications, marinating over a period of more than three years, have gone unprocessed. A number of resulting lawsuits are currently before the courts.

(To be fair, Mr. DaCosta has been highly vocal behind the scenes about the lack of clear policy directives from the ministry — but virtually silent publicly. He should have been more forceful, and more vocal. He would have been wise to consider the adage, “If you’re going to be good at your job, you have to be willing to risk losing it.”)

We’re not sure whether to wish Mr. DaCosta’s successor, attorney John Meghoo, all the best in his new post or, frankly, our condolences. We’re firm believers in the principle that one should not accept the responsibility to fix a broken system without the authority to do what’s necessary.

Taking the broader view, the volume of work performed at the Immigration Department is as enormous as it is important. The department oversees everything from border control to visas, work permits, residency and status grants as well as passports for Caymanians wishing to travel overseas. Since January through July 2017, the department received 18,847 work permit applications and is struggling with 11 vacant positions in its administrative ranks. It’s no wonder the system is collapsing.

The newly minted government of these islands, under the leadership of Premier Alden McLaughlin, would be well advised (in the words of the late Steve Jobs of Apple) to “Think Different.”

A complete “rethink,” and likely revamp, of the entire immigration apparatus is in order — from management and staffing to policies and processes. “Musical chairs” at the board level is not nearly enough.

Perhaps more than in any other area, immigration reform presents an opportunity to reinvigorate the once-touted private sector/public sector partnership that engendered the social tranquility and economic success of these islands.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t think problems with Immigration are anything new or that the current lack of recognisable leadership is making them any worse now than they were a decade ago.

    Back in 2006/7 I built up a catalogue of issues with Immigration relating to WP and TWP applications. Some were from personal experiences, other from friends of mine but these are just a few examples –

    1. Lost paperwork. Even if you very carefully prepared the applications and took the precaution of photo-copying everything things went missing. When they went missing the replacements had to be originals – the photocopies weren’t acceptable. It seemed that blood test reports and accommodation reports were favourite targets for this disappearing trick.

    2. Multiple blood tests. I lost count of the number of people who turned up at Elgin Avenue expecting to get their passport stamped and were sent away to get a completely pointless re-test.

    3. Huge discrepancies in the time it took to issue TWPs. Some employers had to wait three or four months to get a three-month TWP while others (my boss at the time was one of them) made a couple of phone calls and got the whole process completed in a week.

    4. Issues regarding interference in the issue of both WPs and TWPs. Here it seemed that certain favoured employers could use their contacts at Immigration to interfere with recruitment of staff by their competitors. One watersports company apparently had to close down because of this.

    5. Former and current Immigration officers taking advantage of their contacts and position to work (moonlight in the case of current staff) as ‘Immigration Advisors’. Put in it’s simplest form they were charging fees of $300-$500 to ensure these connections smoothed over any hiccups and delays in the application process. In blunt terms it was greasing the wheels. This was actually the subject of a formal complaint in 2007 but nothing happened.

    6. Huge disparities in the way employers were treated in respect of alleged breaches of the Immigration Law. In one classic case a major employer was dragged through the Courts on a trvial technicality that Immigration could have dealt with internally. At the same time another employer was caught employing staff without the correct WPs and allowed to simply file the appropriate paperwork, pay the fees and bring things up to date.

    And I’m sure Compass readers (and probably a few of your staff) can add to this list.

    The fact is that whoever is running the show there are elements in Immigration who put on the uniform and regard themselves as above the law.

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