Protesting Cuban couple Javier Varona and Erica Alvarez-Freites have been granted an exemption which will allow the mother of one to work in the Cayman Islands, Customs and Border Control has confirmed.

In a statement Friday afternoon CBC, which falls under Premier Alden McLaughlin’s portfolio, announced the decision, which was made in Cabinet.

The statement explained that this move provides an avenue to assist the couple until the necessary law changes can be made to fix the “limitation within the Customs & Border Control Act, 2018, and its inconsistency with the principle of family unity under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees”.

“Cabinet, at a recent meeting, exercised those powers in respect of the spouse of a particular asylum-recipient, thereby providing an opportunity for gainful employment within specified occupations for a period of two years. That decision was subsequently communicated to the relevant parties earlier this week by CBC,” the statement said.

The statement said in December Cabinet granted approval to the Ministry of Employment and Border Control to amend the Customs and Border Control Act, 2018.

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“The Ministry is working with the Legislative Drafting Department to prepare an appropriate Bill for Cabinet’s consideration,” it said. However, with early elections now called and parliament dissolved, there is no way for those changes to be debated.

“In the absence of legislative amendments, a viable option to allow a spouse of an asylum-recipient to legally remain and work in the Islands, is for Cabinet to exercise its powers in accordance with section 53(1)(b) of the Immigration (Transition) Act, 2018, and grant an exemption to allow that person to lawfully take up gainful employment,” the statement said.

For more than two weeks, Freites and his wife, Erica Alvarez-Freites have been protesting outside the Government Administration Building seeking changes to the Customs and Border Control Act, 2018 to allow spouses of asylum seekers to work in Cayman. On Friday, they were not outside the building.

Under the law, there is no provision to regularise the residency and employment status of Freites’ expatriate spouse.

Thursday, the Human Rights Commission called for prospective leaders to make resolving a gap in immigration legislation for asylum seekers a top priority when the new government takes over.

“Due to the sensitive nature and the alleged breach of human rights in this regard the Commission continues to advocate for the urgent remedying of this matter to remain a top priority particularly for the incoming Government, so that no one residing in these beauteous Cayman Isles are disenfranchised in any respect,” the commission said in its statement.

CBC said Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman (WORC) will manage employment-related services for the couple while it will continue to facilitate additional temporary support services.

“In respect of persons seeking asylum as well as those who have received asylum, CBC will continue to monitor individual circumstances and provide appropriate support in tandem with other agencies as necessary,” it added.


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