The Cayman Islands Immigration Department will likely no longer be a standalone public sector entity, once the local government finishes a series of reorganizations it is making within the civil service, the Cayman Compass has learned.
The department has not had a permanent, full-time leader since former immigration chief Linda Evans was suspended in late 2014 and eventually retired. The agency has also seen a significant move by government to hive off its work permit processing to a separate government department of human resources within the next two years.
Premier Alden McLaughlin announced last month during a Legislative Assembly meeting that immigration and Her Majesty’s Customs service would be merging border control and policing functions in the coming year. The combination of the border control/law enforcement merger with the work permit changes would seem to leave the current Immigration Department with little to do.
Cayman Islands Governor Anwar Choudhury, when asked about the department’s future Thursday, said the functions performed by immigration “can’t go away.”
“But if this merger actually leads us to more agility … more efficiency, that’s got to be a good thing,” Mr. Choudhury said.
Head of the Governor’s Office Matthew Forbes said the border control services merger would be one of the first things Cayman’s National Security Council would be looking at when it meets next week.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said there are many international examples of merging border control functions, such as the U.S. Customs and Border Control agency. In America, citizenship and immigration services are a carried out as functions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The U.K. also merged its Border and Immigration Agency, its visas administration and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in 2008 to create a single border control organization called the U.K. Border Agency. However, that agency was abolished and split up five years later, after parliamentary reports revealed poor customer service and large backlogs of immigration applications.
Premier McLaughlin said in March that residents would start to notice changes in security officers staffing ports of entry within the next year as a result of the border control merger. “We will have a single border force agency with a staff trained to protect our seaports and airports,” the premier told members of the Legislative Assembly. “Immigration and customs staff are undergoing cross-training and participating in joint operations.”
Mr. McLaughlin said staff members wearing the new uniforms of the combined service are likely to start appearing in early 2019.
The premier’s Ministry of Human Resources and Immigration has already undertaken plans to amalgamate administrative services performed by the Immigration Department on the granting of work permits and other immigration statuses.
Eventually, those services are to be controlled by a new government human resources department, the creation of which is now being led by local attorney Sharon Roulstone.
Although he said hosting official meetings is “not my thing,” Governor Choudhury said Thursday that the National Security Council, comprised of government and opposition political members, civil society representatives, the deputy governor and the governor would likely start meeting monthly to start coming up with crime fighting strategies.
“It won’t be a talk shop,” Mr. Choudhury said, stating his hope that the meeting agendas would be kept brief and to the point – no more than 90 minutes at a time. “[The security council] needs to work. It needs to be clear on the priority and needs to be action oriented.”
Mr. Choudhury said gun crime and burglaries were already identified as areas of public concern. He also noted that the premier had “given the leadership” around certain law enforcement initiatives like the border control services merger and the proposed creation of an independent coast guard for Cayman – which the U.K. supports.
The governor said he was “encouraged” to see crime seemed to be a “national unity” issue in Cayman, rather than a political battleground. “That’s a real compliment to the politicians … and the people of the Cayman Islands,” he said.