Less than one-quarter of the civil servants working in the Cayman Islands Immigration Department collect the vast majority – budgeted at more than $200 million over the next two years – of revenues paid for various work permit, residency and other fees charged for immigration services.

In contrast, 36 percent of the department staff is focused on border control and enforcement, which has averaged an annual collection in fines for immigration violations of about $365,000 each year between 2013 and 2017.

The figures come from budget documents and the Immigration Department which provided, at the Cayman Compass’s request, a breakdown of its staff and the functions members perform in their daily jobs.

The Immigration Department currently has 171 employees. Sixty-two of those work in the enforcement/border security arm of the department, including airport and port border checks and proactive enforcement operations.

Another 62 employees work in administrative tasks, including financing, customer service, human resources, management of records, information technology and training. Ministry of Immigration Chief Officer Wesley Howell said these staffers include the “frontline” service providers, such as the individuals working the immigration front desk at its Elgin Avenue headquarters.

Those customer service staff members will receive work permit and other immigration applications and payments at the front counter, Mr. Howell said.

“[They] are not involved with the processing/decision making of applications,” he said.

There are 38 Immigration Department employees focused on assisting the immigration-related boards in the hearing and processing of various applications, including the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, the Work Permit Board, the Business Staffing Plan and the immigration boards’ secretariat.

“These individuals work directly with work permits, business staffing plans, permanent residence and Caymanian status,” Mr. Howell said. The number does not include the actual board members, who are volunteers and not civil servants.

Another nine employees work in immigration’s passport and corporate services unit.

According to budget documents, the Immigration Department will collect many times its total annual personnel budget (about $11.4 million) in permit revenues over the next two years. The Compass estimated the government would take in $209 million in immigration-related fees during its 2018 and 2019 budget years – with the vast majority of that money coming from work permit fees, permanent residency fees and Caymanian status fees.

Mr. Howell said administrative fines and fees are typically paid into the government’s general revenue fund, while permit application fees are mostly kept by the Immigration Department.

Processing problems

The Immigration Department acknowledged this summer that its employees are handling a much larger number of permit applications, particularly work permits, than they were a year ago, leading to longer-than-usual delays in processing.

According to figures given to the Cayman Compass, 18,847 work permit applications were submitted to the department in seven months between Jan. 1, 2017 and July 31, 2017. Those applications 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.

The processing, which can depend on the specific details of each case, is now taking between eight and 12 weeks, on average, according to private sector firms that assist businesses with work permit applications. The Immigration Department’s stated goal is have a permit “turned around” in 14 days once an application is received.

As of mid-July, there were 24,880 active work permits in the Cayman Islands, including government contracts and individuals awaiting word on permanent residence applications.

Also during the summer, the Immigration Department brought in six additional employees to help process long-outstanding permanent residence applications, and have managed to cut a backlog of more than 1,100 residency bids to around 800. However, more applications are being filed weekly, and it seems likely that the backlog will take until at least mid-2018 to wade through.

Enforcement

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 this month.

A total of 336 people were arrested between July 1, 2016 and Nov. 7, 2017 for overstaying or assisting another person to overstay, Mr. Howell said.

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 remove themselves from the islands, eliminating the need for a “prohibited immigrant” order from the governor’s office.

Another 460 arrests have occurred since July 1, 2016 for work permit offenses, according to Mr. Howell. Again, most of these cases end up with administrative fines, rather than proceeding to court.

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).