It has taken the Cayman Islands government just over nine months to plow through a backlog of 1,200 applications for permanent residence filed by non-Caymanians.

The final tally of those applications shows 708 people were allowed to remain in Cayman for the rest of their lives. A further 528 were refused their initial requests for that status. A number of those applicants have since appealed the denials.

Although immigration officials got through the residency backlog within a year, many of the applications being considered during the process had been delayed for two to three years when a decision was made to stop hearing the cases amid legal concerns about how government was scoring them.

The delay began sometime in late 2014 or early 2015 and lasted until several applicants started filing court challenges in early 2017.

Two of the applicants who filed for judicial review over the delays, Mark Edmunds and Derek Larner, were awarded residency in May 2017. Following those awards, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board started hearing the backlogged applications in June, adding more immigration staff and holding additional board meetings to handle the workload.

Currently, there are only 80 residency applications left to be considered and most of those were not included in the original backlog.

Of the 80 applications remaining, 36 have been deferred to a later hearing and another 28 are awaiting additional information from the applicants. Fourteen applications have been scheduled for a decision and just two have not been reviewed.

However, it’s likely the government will continue to face legal issues in the coming years over the system it uses to allow non-Caymanians to remain here.

More than 200 applicants for permanent residence who were denied that immigration status since 2017 have filed challenges to those decisions, according to records obtained by a Cayman Compass Freedom of Information request.

Immigration specialist attorneys at the HSM Chambers law firm said last month that the next stage of the appeals process for permanent residency applicants may take some time to resolve.

“We expect this number [referring to the number of appeals cases] to continue to grow, with 12 notices of appeal in relation to the denial of permanent residence filed in February alone,” HSM partner Nick Joseph told clients in a March email. “Plainly … another backlog is developing in relation to appeals.

“Many of the issues we, our clients and the [Immigration] Department are now confronting have been long anticipated. Political direction and policy decisions may be required to overcome these delays.”

In addition to the appeals cases immediately facing the Immigration Appeals Tribunal and potentially the courts, the Legislative Assembly may soon be dealing with the issue again in further amendments to the law.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said last year that “significant changes” to the point systems used to award permanent residence were still needed to address a “critical issue” in Cayman’s future development. Departing Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board Chairman Waide DaCosta said last year that he thought the residency system adopted in late 2013 made it easier for non-Caymanians to remain here.

The government did change one significant aspect of the residency grant system in March 2017, 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 called “prone to arbitrariness” in a judgment from 2015.

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