Certain local residents who believed for years, even decades, that they were Caymanian – as defined under local Immigration Law – only to learn that they did not legally hold that status will be allowed to apply to obtain it, regardless of their age or how long they have been in the territory.
If changes included in the recently proposed Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2018 are approved by lawmakers, the so-called generation of “ghost Caymanians” will essentially be given a new lease on life, in immigration terms at any rate.
The amendment bill is expected to come before the Legislative Assembly at its next meeting, which begins on June 27. Lawmakers from all sides of the political aisle have previously indicated they would generally support such a change.
The problem is a complex legal one, rooted in the simple fact that being born within the Cayman Islands does not automatically grant a person citizenship rights.
A “ghost Caymanian,” as they are sometimes called in immigration circles, is a person who was born in Cayman to, or who came to Cayman as a child with, non-Caymanian parents who later received Caymanian status. Caymanian status is a legal designation similar to local citizenship that gives someone “the right to be Caymanian.”
Those children, under the current Immigration Law, are not automatically considered Caymanian by birth. When their parents receive their legal status, the children typically become Caymanian as well, via their parents. However, the law now requires those children, before they turn 18, to apply for Caymanian status in their own right. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, have not done so.
“We are coming across persons well into their 30s and beyond, finding themselves amongst the ‘undocumented,’” said HSM law firm partner Nicholas Joseph, who first sounded the alarm about the issue several years ago. “We are also now seeing, with increasing frequency, a second generation – the children of Ghost Caymanians – running into problems.”
Many of these people, now well into adulthood, believe themselves to be Caymanian, but often find when applying for a job, or traveling overseas, that they are not – sometimes with disastrous results.
One such person, a 39-year-old woman who believed that she was Caymanian from birth, recently had to be granted Caymanian status by the Cabinet because there was no other way she could legally receive that immigration status.
The issue is further complicated by a special provision in the former Immigration Law that allowed anyone born in Cayman to non-Caymanian parents between March 27, 1977 and Jan. 1, 1983 and who never applied for Caymanian status before they turned 18 to do so.
The law gave those individuals a deadline to apply for that status, Dec. 21, 2007, but many did not.
Two changes are now proposed to the Immigration Law that seek to remove the “deadlines” the legislation sets for these individuals – some of whom are now in their 30s and 40s – to apply for Caymanian status.
The amendment bill first seeks changes that allow a person of any age to apply for Caymanian status “where his or her status as a Caymanian may have expired when reaching the age of 18.”
The second change proposed would simply ignore the Dec. 31, 2007 deadline set for those individuals born to non-Caymanian parents between March 27, 1977 and Jan. 1, 1983. Anyone in that specific group who held Caymanian status before reaching age 18 would be allowed to apply to be granted that status as an adult at any time, according to the bill.
The amendment bill also seeks to address a number of long-standing problems in other areas of Immigration Law, including some recent difficulties in handling asylum-seekers.
The bill proposes to establish a “Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal” that will focus solely on hearing appeals of decisions made by the chief immigration officer to refuse applications for asylum in Cayman. The five-member tribunal, to be headed by experienced attorneys, would take over responsibility for asylum appeals which are now heard by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal.
Several asylum requests have been granted in Cayman during recent months, largely to Cuban nationals who have arrived on local shores in makeshift boats.
The bill seeks to set up operating rules for the newly created tribunal and how it would handle those cases.
The bill also seeks to clarify rules around applying for permanent residence and for those who apply as dependents of residence-holders.
The legislation clarifies that dependents of permanent residence-holders may apply for residency in their own right, but that those applications must be accompanied by specified fees or they will not be considered.
The bill also states that in certain circumstances, the spouse of a Caymanian may hold permanent residence rights “for an indefinite period.”