A group of people sometimes referred to as “Ghost Caymanians” are now spawning a second generation that Cayman Islands Immigration Law has little, if any, means to address, legal experts warn.
Local immigration attorney Nicolas Joseph of HSM Chambers said this week that the issue is a real-life “duppy” (Caribbean term for ghost) problem that the territory must confront immediately.
Former Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board Chairman Waide DaCosta warned last week of the issue’s critical importance to the islands and said it has not been dealt with by successive administrations.
Ignoring it could mean that Cayman will create, within the next decade or so, a generation of “stateless” children who are turning 18 and who have nowhere to go.
“We are coming across persons well into their 30s and beyond, finding themselves amongst the ‘undocumented,’” Mr. Joseph said. “We are also now seeing, with increasing frequency, a second generation – the children of Ghost Caymanians – running into problems.”
A “ghost” Caymanian, as they are sometimes called in immigration circles, is a person who was born in Cayman to, or who came to Cayman as a child with, non-Caymanian parents who later received Caymanian status – a legal designation that gives someone “the right to be Caymanian.”
Those children, under current Immigration Law, are not automatically considered Caymanian by birth. When their parents received that status, the children typically became Caymanian as well, via their parents. However, the law required those children, before they turned 18, to apply for Caymanian status in their own right. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, did not do so, Mr. Joseph said.
These people, now well into adulthood, believe themselves to be Caymanian, but often find when applying for a job, or traveling overseas, that they are not – sometimes with disastrous results.
The issue is further complicated by a special provision in the former Immigration Law that allowed anyone born in Cayman to non-Caymanian parents between March 27, 1977 and Jan. 1, 1983 who never applied for Caymanian status before they turned 18 to do so.
The law gave them a deadline to apply for that status, Dec. 31, 2007, but many did not.
Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and Mr. Joseph said: “These persons are now between 34 and 40 years old, plenty old enough to have had children.”
What happens to those kids, the children of the “Ghost Caymanians,” is largely uncertain. Their parents do not have Caymanian status – though they may have a Caymanian passport and permanent residence. Without the parents being granted the right to be Caymanian, the children cannot obtain that right through them and cannot then apply for status in their own right before they turn 18.
If those children are unable to access a passport or citizenship from another country, due to their parents’ immigration status, they could become “stateless” – not having a legal home anywhere on Earth.
The problem, according to Mr. Joseph, will only grow with time.
“We are yet to see three generations with this problem, but expect to come across it any time now,” he said.
After Mr. DaCosta left the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, he said that he informed the government in 2013 about the “ghost” Caymanians problem and was told that another round of immigration reform during 2014 would address the matter.
That never happened.
“This requires urgent attention by legislators,” Mr. DaCosta said.
Part of the problem, according to Mr. Joseph, is that government may not fully understand the “ins and outs” of the Immigration Law it has created.
As an example, he points to recent recruitment efforts at the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service that seek to hire Caymanian officers and ask for “proof of Caymanian citizenship” from applicants.
“There is no such thing as Caymanian citizenship,” Mr. Joseph said. “There is British Overseas Territories citizenship and there is the right to be Caymanian. These concepts often exist independent of one another.
“Persons who have British Overseas Territories citizenship by virtue of a connection with the islands may or may not be Caymanian. Large numbers of Caymanians are not British Overseas Territories citizens.
“Confusing through it is, that is our law.”