The permanent residence predicament

The top stories of 2017

The year 2017 began with nearly 1,000 people waiting for rulings on their permanent residence applications and no visible effort on the part of the Cayman Islands government to deal with those matters.

In June, that number had grown to more than 1,100.

By the end of the year, decisions had been made on more than 600 residency applications with roughly two-thirds of those being approved.

Although the issue is not new to Cayman, the delays in the system that allows non-Caymanians a chance to remain in the islands for the rest of their lives began translating into a series of lawsuits beginning in late 2016 and continuing into this year. Those requests for judges to review the issue, and the aftermath of the May 2017 general election, spurred the public sector to action.

The first of these legal challenges involving the current Immigration Law and the system it uses to review residency applications was filed in December 2016 by Mark Edmunds, a financial services company manager. Mr. Edmunds’s attorneys alleged that his 29-month wait for a decision was unlawful and “can be seen as applying a moratorium to the processing of permanent residence applications.”

Since January 2017, at least six similar judicial review requests were filed by other residency-seekers who had been delayed for various lengths of time. By April 2017, the government had not processed a single permanent residence application since at least January 2015.

The Progressives-led government, facing a tough re-election bid in May, was between the proverbial rock [the courts] and hard place [the voters] by the spring of 2017.

“We do have to make significant changes to the [permanent residence] points system and the way points are awarded and determined,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said during an election candidates forum in Red Bay. “It is a critical issue. It is very important to Cayman long-term.”

The government did change one significant aspect of the residency grant system in March, giving all applicants a maximum number of points awarded (15) for the jobs they hold, regardless of the job. Previously, the system assigned specific points to certain jobs based on their perceived importance to the Cayman Islands economy – a method Chief Justice Anthony Smellie had noted was “prone to arbitrariness.”

Although the legal change was made in March, permanent residence applications were still not being processed at that time. In May, court cases involving Mr. Edmunds and accountant Derek Larner resulted in those two men being awarded residency.

By June, local attorneys at HSM Chambers stated publicly that an “invisible hand” appeared to be blocking attempts to address years-long delays in permanent residence applications and that the process appeared to have “stagnated.”

In late June, the government-appointed Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board began hearing approximately 10 applications a week, deciding on an average of five to six each week. This rate, attorneys noted, was not even keeping pace with the number of new permanent residence applications being filed each week and would result in a never-ending backlog of applications.

In late July/early August, the board and Immigration Department staffers began hearing dozens of residency applications per week, and the backlog began declining. On Sept. 6, former Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board Chairman Waide DaCosta was replaced at the end of his appointment term.

Mr. DaCosta noted in a social media post later in the month that he was “not a proponent” of changes to the Immigration Law made in October 2013, which he believed made it easier – notwithstanding a “cumbersome” application process – for non-Caymanians to receive permanent residence.

“[The legal changes] opened the category to any and everyone to apply for PR, regardless of contribution to Cayman or ability to provide for themselves whilst residing in Cayman,” Mr. DaCosta said.

Since the residency hearings resumed in late June, more than 380 people have been awarded permanent residence, while 180 or so have been denied.

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