United States border control officials were in Grand Cayman this week to sign a first-of-its-kind agreement that will enable passengers arriving from Miami to clear customs and immigration pre-flight.
The arrangement will help alleviate overcrowding at the Owen Roberts International Airport at peak times and enhance intelligence cooperation between the two countries, according to officials from both countries.
There are no plans for a reciprocal arrangement for departing passengers to clear U.S. Customs in Cayman. Premier Alden McLaughlin said this option had been explored but was too expensive to implement.
He said the “declaration of principles,” signed at the government building Tuesday in front of local dignitaries, including the governor, deputy governor and attorney general, would enable Cayman immigration and customs staff to travel to Miami to pre-clear passengers.
The agreement will begin with a pilot program involving Cayman Airways flights coming out of Miami on Sundays.
Mr. McLaughlin said, “This is something we have been planning for and hoping for, for some time. It is the first such agreement the U.S. has entered into with any country and we have a heavy burden to make sure we do it right.”
The most significant impact of the change will be to prevent bottlenecks in the customs and immigration hall at Owen Roberts International Airport when several flights arrive at once. Pre-cleared passengers will go straight through to baggage claim.
“It will introduce a new fast-track procedure at the airport and help improve customer experience at peak weekend times,” the premier said.
Wesley Howell, chief officer in the ministry of human resources and immigration, said the costs involved in setting up the new arrangement would be negligible. Cayman immigration and customs staff will fly out on Cayman Airways planes and return the same day.
Matthew Forbes, head of the governor’s office in the Cayman Islands, said the arrangement would also involve closer collaboration with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection force.
He said the partnership dovetailed with previously announced plans to bring in an experienced manager from the U.K. Border Force to advise on the creation of a new Cayman Islands Border Protection Service.
“This marks the start of a new era of modern intelligence-led border control that will provide greater security to the Cayman Islands. This is part of a wider program of work to modernize our border controls which will see a renewed focus on the prevention of firearms and drug smuggling,” Mr. Forbes said.
Todd Owen, the assistant director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was in Cayman this week to finalize the agreement.
He said the program could be a model for the region in enhancing security and improving experience for travelers.
“The airport fast-track program is designed to enhance airport security by identifying, detecting and intercepting high-risk individuals without inhibiting legitimate lawful travelers,” Mr. Owen said.
On the possibility of a similar pre-clearance arrangement for Cayman-based travelers heading to the U.S., he acknowledged this was financially difficult for smaller countries.
“U.S. pre-clearance is not designed for every market because the volumes have to be there,” he added.
Premier McLaughlin said it had been explored in depth and was not deemed feasible.
“It is extremely expensive, and the number of passengers leaving the Cayman Islands for the U.S. simply don’t justify it,” he said.
Christopher Maston, port director at Miami International Airport, said new measures, including automated passport control kiosks and facial recognition technology, were being deployed at the airport in Miami in an effort to make the process of negotiating customs and immigration smoother and more efficient.