$2.6M in unpaid PR fees owed to government

Just over 100 people have had their permanent residency status revoked for failing to pay PR fees, $2.6 million in uncollected fees still outstanding.

Data from a freedom of information request shows there are more than 400 people living in the Cayman Islands who owe permanent residency fees to the government.

Britons and Jamaicans, the two nationalities that have the most PR holders, also have the highest number in arrears, accounting for more than half of the debt, according to information provided to the group Cayman Citizens Alliance.

The amounts owed vary from a single year’s fee for some to others who have been in arrears for several years.

The figures represent an improvement on data from a similar FOI request in 2016. At that time, more than $4 million in permanent residency fees was outstanding.

Government says the new Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman unit is working to clear the backlog, but has some challenges in cases where people are no longer living in Cayman.

“A large percentage of the outstanding PR fees are from persons who have left the jurisdiction, making it difficult for Government to collect such payments,” according to a statement in response to questions from the Compass.

Though the FOI asked for data in reference to permanent residency holders still living on island, the response provided was based on all PR holders, with the immigration department indicating it was unable to confirm who had left the island permanently.

Permanent residency fees vary according to profession. PR holders are required to pay annual fees on a schedule that parallels the work permit fee schedule. Accountants, for example, would be required to pay between $10,400 and $13,650 each year, depending on the sector they work in. A stenographer would pay $2,100.

Nick Joseph, a lawyer with HSM, said there were many “innocent reasons” for late or non-payment, including confusion over when the fees were due and, in some cases, whether the PR holder or their employer was responsible for the fee.

Changes to the law were introduced in 2013 allowing for PR status to be revoked after 90 days of non-payment. Immigration authorities have taken that step on 107 occasions since then, government indicated.

Joseph, who specialises in immigration and analysed the data for the Compass, said the figures actually represent an improvement, compared to previous years, when the outstanding fees were much higher. Since then, there has also been an increase in the number of PR status holders, he added.

“More people owe less money, is the conclusion I reach, and that must be positive,” he said.

“The numbers appear to be reflective of numerous steps in the right direction, and is indicative of improving enforcement,” he added.

He said the data may also include a significant number of people who were simply late with their payments, rather than attempting to dodge the fee altogether. He said there was often confusion or dispute over whether the PR holder or the employer had agreed to pay, and the precise date that the fee was due. Some PR holders may not realise they are required to continue paying if they leave the island and want to maintain their status, or if they are granted British Overseas Territories Citizenship, he added.

“A tightening of the legislation can address much of the scope for misunderstanding as to what fees are due and when, and we would recommend the government to take such steps. It would certainly help reduce the numbers even further,” he said.

Joseph said government had the power to remove PR status for continued non-payment but suggested this may not be appropriate in all cases, particularly those involving parents of Caymanian children.

According to government’s statement, WORC is looking at the issue as part of the broader reform of immigration and workforce management.

“Since the establishment of WORC, department leaders have reviewed all current immigration processes, identified the key issues and are working to put in place measures to address the inefficiencies and streamline all business processes,” the statement indicated.