Legal difficulties in proving the right to be a Caymanian, identified in reports by the Cayman Compass more than two years ago, have left the local government trying to explain to multigenerational citizens why they might need to visit the Immigration Department.
The latest social media blow-up over the question of who is and who is not a Caymanian happened this week after a voice message left by a Caymanian woman – warning about immigration procedures that could in some cases require long-time Cayman residents to obtain proof of their legal status – circulated the islands.
According to legal experts, the issue is not new but it has become more crucial in recent years as a more populous Cayman Islands has grown its economy and brought in more non-Caymanian workers, some of whom have since gained permanent resident status, or the right to be Caymanian.
Anyone who has received the right to be Caymanian during their lifetime here would be in possession of legal documents provided by the Immigration Department. However, formal acknowledgement of the right to be Caymanian may be needed in instances where such status is created automatically by the law; for example, in cases where a person obtains that right by virtue of their birth to Caymanian parents which generates “no subsequent documentation,” according to the government.
Put another way, a multigenerational Caymanian might have no “papers” proving their legal status where a “new” Caymanian – one who obtained Caymanian status through marriage or extended residence here – would have those documents.
“Acknowledgement letters may be required by private sector employers or other entities [that] wish to confirm that a person possesses Caymanian status,” a statement from the Immigration Ministry issued Tuesday noted. “Noting that it may not always be practical for persons to produce the documentation necessary to prove Caymanian status every time they need to do so, the Immigration Law allows such individuals to apply for formal acknowledgment in the prescribed manner.”
There is no charge for a person who is Caymanian “by right” to obtain proof of their status, although some additional documentation may be required to present to the Immigration Department, ministry officials said Tuesday.
There is a $50 charge per request for a person who is Caymanian ‘by entitlement.’ Entitlement rights can encompass a number of different situations, but the most common is the right of a child born in Cayman to non-Caymanian parents who later receive Caymanian status while the child is still a minor. That child has the right to be Caymanian until reaching age 18, but must apply to become Caymanian on their own upon reaching the age of the majority – called becoming Caymanian “by entitlement.”
The failure of many younger people in the above situation to regularize their immigration status before reaching age 18 has led to the creation of what some local immigration professionals have called “ghost Caymanians” – meaning people who have lived here their entire lives and who believed they had the right to be Caymanian. However, when asked to prove that status when applying for a student loan or a job, they were unable to do so.
The Caymanian Bar association acknowledged the difficulty facing the younger generations of Caymanians in an analysis of the issue done in 2017.
According to the Immigration Law, those individuals are expected to apply for continuation of Caymanian status after reaching age 17, and preferably before they turn 18. If they fail to apply for continuation of that status, they are “seemingly not Caymanian,” according to the Bar association’s analysis. A section of the Immigration Law allows those individuals to apply and receive that status up until age 24, but if they do not do so, legal problems may ensue.
Nicolas Joseph, a partner at the HSM Chambers law firm, has researched this issue for years.
“It appears to me that numerous persons [who are] Caymanian by Entitlement [receiving Caymanian status prior to reaching age 18, via their parents] may not be applying for continuation as prescribed/required by law,” Mr. Joseph said in a separate analysis he wrote to the Compass in 2015. “I do not know what is becoming of them.”
“We have for some years been seeing an increase of such persons who seem to be here with no express immigration permission, and may have fallen through the cracks,” Mr. Joseph continued. “It may be that a substantial number of status grants will be required to resolve the issue.”
It is estimated the number of “ghost Caymanians” could be anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand.
Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly in late 2017 that resolving the issue on behalf of both the multigenerational Caymanians and the so-called “ghost Caymanians” is not a simple task, as there is apparently no one place within government that lists all individuals who hold Caymanian status.
“Some entity or some individual has got to make a pronouncement as to whether or not a person is Caymanian. That has fallen to immigration who, believe you me, would rather not have to deal with it,” Mr. McLaughlin said.