Amnesty period nets 13-year overstayer

A total of 14 foreign nationals who stayed beyond the period of their legal residence in Cayman – including one who lived here illegally 13½ years – have turned themselves in to immigration authorities during this month’s amnesty period, the Immigration Department announced Wednesday.

The amnesty period for certain immigration offenses ends at 3 p.m. Friday. It began on Aug. 1. According to immigration officers, one of the people who turned themselves in during the month had been in Cayman without permission since 2005.

Under the terms of the amnesty, any foreign nationals who do not currently have permission to stay in the islands via a work permit, visitors visa or other means, can depart without fear of prosecution.

Those who have turned themselves in include 11 adults and three children. Ten of the overstayers were Jamaican nationals. The other four were from India, Honduras, South Africa and the U.S.

“I strongly urge those persons who are not compliant with the Immigration Law, to quickly utilize the time they have before being identified and subsequently arrested,” Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith said earlier this month. “Those who forego the opportunity and do not depart voluntarily can expect the full weight of the Law to be applied as a consequence.”

Not all immigration-related offenses are covered under the immigration amnesty period. The offenses for which clemency is granted include staying without lawful permission in the islands, instances where employers hold work permits for foreigners who have no job, or where employment of a foreign national on a full-term permit occurs where the company no longer has full-time work.

Anyone who is in the islands illegally is allowed to make an airline reservation and leave before the deadline, immigration officials said. Anyone who is found to be illegally residing in the islands and who does not surrender voluntarily to immigration officers may still be arrested and prosecuted.

The amnesty was suggested earlier in the year by Magistrate Valdis Foldats, who presided over a court case where a Jamaican national who had overstayed for six years was sentenced to eight months imprisonment.

Crown counsel prosecuting the matter noted that deportation had been considered, rather than taking on the additional expense of keeping the man in Cayman.

Mr. Foldats was concerned about the message the court would be sending: “What message does it send to other people if he goes home and says, ‘Hey, I overstayed for six years and got a free ride home!’ There should be some penalty.”

“I think we can all agree there are a number of people who have overstayed and not been caught,” the magistrate commented later. “There might be an amnesty. People might be encouraged to give themselves up.”

The Immigration Department reported that 336 people were arrested between July 2016 and November 2017 for the offense of overstaying or assisting another person to overstay.

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