More than 900 arrests have been made since July 2016 [*] for various immigration violations related to staying or working illegally in the Cayman Islands, Immigration Department officials confirmed Tuesday.
A total of 336 people were arrested between July 1, 2016 and Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 for overstaying or assisting another person to overstay, Ministry of Immigration Chief Officer Wes Howell confirmed.
During Legislative Assembly Finance Committee proceedings this week, lawmakers like East End MLA Arden McLean said illegal immigrants staying in Cayman were a bigger problem than the territory has seen in its recent history.
“There are too many rumors of people who are living illegally on this island,” Mr. McLean said, adding that immigration, police and customs officials seemed to be stepping up their enforcement efforts within the past 18 months or so.
Mr. McLean’s perception of more illegal overstayers may be correct. The 336 arrests for the offense in a little over a year [*] were more than the combined totals the Immigration Department reported for 2010 and 2011 (191 overstaying arrests for both years).
However, Premier Alden McLaughlin said those arrests, while of concern, may not receive the public attention previously given to the crime.
“I think we’re doing more [enforcement] now than ever before,” the premier said. “But I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, sad to say, these offenses are … not making the waves they once did.”
Also, many overstaying cases do not come before the Cayman Islands court system, since the Immigration Department was given the ability in recent years to issue administrative fines. In most overstaying matters, individuals pay a sum of money and then voluntarily removes themselves from the islands, the premier said, eliminating the need for a “prohibited immigrant” order from the governor’s office.
There is the odd case that does come before the court, such as a man who was imprisoned and then deported in late 2016 who stayed in Cayman a decade after his work permit expired.
The defendant in that case, Charlton Hooker Powell, was arrested in September 2016 for driving without a license. “If his bad luck did not kick in with a traffic offense, he would still be living with us,” Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez remarked at the time.
Such cases of deliberately overstaying for years at a time remain rare, Mr. McLaughlin told the finance committee on Tuesday.
Another 460 arrests have occurred since July 1 for work permit offenses, according to Mr. Howell. Again, most of these cases end up with administrative fines, rather than proceeding to court.
These matters are sometimes the fault of the employee and sometimes the fault of the employer, the Immigration Department statistics show.
For instance, 238 arrests were made in connection with someone being employed outside the terms of a work permit during the period. This can happen, for example, when a person is hired as a bartender, but is found working in another occupation, such as a concierge or a waiter because their employer has instructed them to do so. Fines can be leveled against the person’s employer for this type of offense.
Another 149 people were arrested for working outside the terms of their permits. This is an offense against an employee who takes up another job without receiving permission to do so. In addition, 73 arrests were made for individuals having no work permit at all. Any non-Caymanian taking up employment in the Cayman Islands is required to obtain a legal permit before starting the job.
Other arrests for immigration offenses included making a false representation on immigration forms or to an immigration officer (93 arrests) and engaging in a marriage of convenience (18 arrests).
[*] Editor’s note: The story was corrected to reflect the arrests were for the period between July 1, 2016 and Nov. 7, 2017.