Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo said Thursday that government should “strongly consider” limiting grants of Caymanian status only to individuals who were Caymanian by descent or who had received that status through marriage.
Mr. Suckoo is the third opposition lawmaker to express that view publicly this year, with East End MLA Arden McLean articulating the same position during the spring political campaign and Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller reiterating his long-held position on the subject earlier this year as well.
Caymanian status is the local equivalent of citizenship in the British Overseas Territory. Legally speaking, there is no “Caymanian” citizenship, but the award of British Overseas Territories citizenship to a person in Cayman does not give them voting rights and certain other privileges usually associated with being naturalized. A person may only vote if they are given the “right to be Caymanian” through status.
Cayman operates an immigration system that involves graduated rights for a non-Caymanian individual based on how long they reside in the territory. If the person first obtains permanent residence, they may then apply for naturalization and a British territories passport. Once the person has lived in Cayman for 15 years, they can apply for Caymanian status, regardless of whether they have any family connection to the islands.
Mr. Suckoo raised the issue while debating the government budget Thursday morning, voicing concerns about how many work permits for non-Caymanian employees the government intended to grant based on revenues collected for those permits.
Some of those permit-holders, Mr. Suckoo said, would stay in Cayman long enough to qualify for permanent residence and some would then move on to obtain citizenship status.
“It is now time for us to strongly consider only granting Caymanian status through descent or marriage,” Mr. Suckoo said.
The Newlands MLA’s comments came as he spoke about concerns that Cayman was importing large numbers of lower income workers with whom the local population could not, or would not, compete, essentially “importing poverty,” he argued. These low income workers, if they became citizens, could put further strain on the healthcare and public welfare system later in life.
“We know why it happens, let’s not sugar-coat anything: profit,” Mr. Suckoo said. “I’m not blaming the laborers themselves. I am blaming some of the businesses.”
These workers do not live in ideal conditions, living six or eight to a two-bedroom apartment, working excessive hours to send most their earnings home, Mr. Suckoo said.
“I feel for some of them, when I see the level of exploitation,” the deputy opposition leader said. “The way they’re treated, you wouldn’t treat your dog that way.”
Mr. Suckoo said the opposition benches supported government’s plan for a centralized government human resources function that is planned to create a “jobs clearinghouse.” That department would be able to work with immigration officials to identify job private sector job vacancies, he said.
However, he questioned whether government had put enough money into the budget to create and maintain the computerized information systems required, or for the training and retraining of local workers. There were also questions about just what percentage of the work for this new agency would be done by immigration officers and which functions would be done by the National Workforce Development Agency.
“It’s pleasing to see this is now being delivered, but I’m concerned there will not be sufficient resources,” he said.
Another way to obtain the right to be Caymanian is through a grant ordered by the Cabinet.
Three such grants are being brought before the Legislative Assembly during the current budget meeting.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the grants would be considered later this month.
Since 2004, the Cabinet has been limited to making four status grants each year, but it has made far fewer in practice, opting to grant only five people Caymanian status within the past dozen years.
Two grants were made in 2016 and one occurred in 2014. Two more status grants were made in 2012.