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By Alric Lindsay
In a press release dated November 23, 2022, Deputy Premier and Minister for Labour, Christopher Saunders quashed speculation that a moratorium is currently in effect for the grant of permanent residency (“PR”). Almost simultaneously with the suppression of moratorium fears, however, I think Minister Saunders may have inadvertently introduced uncertainties as to how proposed revisions to the PR “points system” may affect existing PR application processing times and future eligibility for a PR grant.
Doubts as to processing time
Concerning the length of time to process existing PR applications, Saunders said that “There has been an increase in application processing time, which is the result of applications undergoing increased scrutiny.”
Such scrutiny, he explained, has “become necessary due to a number of factors, including increased reports of marriages of convenience and other questionable activity.”
How immigration authorities intend to come to a fair determination in each of these areas, however, is unclear.
For example, some people question whether immigration authorities will now conduct more, in-depth interviews of spouses of PR applicants to verify if their marriages are real, possibly causing great angst for PR applicants and Caymanians married to PR applicants.
Skepticism has also reared its head regarding the approach of immigration authorities in this area because Cayman has now legalized civil partnerships, which could be subject to a different analysis than a “marriage” when trying to establish if a relationship is for convenience.
If PR applicants find themselves being “investigated” for extended periods in the above cases, they may find that processing times may be delayed far beyond what they reasonably expected.
Doubts as to PR grant
In addition to the projected, increased waiting times, some existing PR applicants (and those gearing up to apply) are concerned whether the goal post is now being shifted to a different, unattainable angle mid-game.
This is because the government press release stated that “People should not expect that they will be given Permanent Resident status automatically after being here for a certain amount of time” and “The existing ‘points’ system of evaluating applicants’ worthiness to gain Permanent Residence is currently undergoing a full review by a committee.”
The issue with these statements (as to “expectation” and “worthiness”), in my opinion, is that they may cause some PR applicants to worry whether subjective considerations may override (or seep into) what ought to be a fair and objective process.
If such an override happens, it could lead to further legal challenges in the courts of the Cayman Islands, in addition to challenges said to be currently contemplated against immigration authorities.
With respect to the contemplation of legal challenges, recent court judgments state that the Immigration Appeals Tribunal (IAT) made some wrong decisions.
This is of particular importance to PR applicants who were previously refused PR but may now find a legal argument for reconsidering their PR application, based on judges’ interpretations of specific scenarios described in the recent judgments.
Some PR applicants appealing decisions might also now question whether, having established a family unit here, the decisions of immigration authorities adversely affect their rights to a private and family life under the constitution or whether such rights ought to be considered separate and apart from (or as an alternative to) the points system in determining whether to grant PR.
If enough court challenges are successful in the preceding scenarios, it is possible that a mass PR grant could occur.
Caymanians also impacted
In addition to the challenges faced by those wishing to reside here permanently, Caymanians are concerned about what mass PR grants could mean in the long term.
Specifically, some Caymanians want to know how such a mass grant scenario impacts infrastructure, its implications for national identity and culture, or how new lobbying powers may arise, leading to possible changes in government policies, legislation, and the constitution.
Concerning the infrastructure debate, a traffic study, which will hopefully be released soon to the public by the National Roads Authority, estimates that, in connection with rapid-paced development, 3,298 households (which equates to 7,626 additional people) are expected to be added by 2026. Another 8,713 households (equating to another 20,086 people) are expected to be added to the population by 2036.
Assuming that a majority of this growth will come in the form of visiting workers arriving on the island to work in new hotels, etc., one has to factor in the possibility that they may also, one day, meet the criteria to apply for, and possibly be granted, permanent residency.
When coupled with growing Caymanian families, these additional numbers may place further pressure on schools, roads, and hospitals.
These things should be considered far in advance by policymakers and, perhaps, included in a long-term sustainable development plan.
Notwithstanding the most well-thought-out sustainable development plan, however, it is quite a difficult task to measure how rapid changes in the population may impact what is perceived as the Cayman identity and culture.
In connection with this, the Deputy Premier warned:
As a small population, it is important that we are mindful that our national identity remains. The massive societal change caused by the doubling of our Islands’ population in just one generation should give everyone pause. The effects can be seen through some of the challenges we have today, especially with regard to housing, which is a basic human right.
In my humble opinion, in taking the “pause” that the Deputy Premier mentioned, each person should ask several questions, including the following:
If there is overdevelopment and overpopulation, will Cayman lose its “attractiveness and feel” as a Caribbean destination?To what extent will stakeholders be willing to embrace (or adapt to) Caymanian customs, culture and heritage? Will the Cayman of the future mostly be comprised of a transient population where stakeholders come to work, make money for a period, and then move on to some other place?Will Caymanians be able to financially survive the version of Cayman that seems to be in the making for high-net-worth investors in the future?
Each of these questions will, no doubt, yield different answers from different stakeholders, likely based on their backgrounds, motives, and circumstances.
Some stakeholders’ views may also find their way into government policies, legislation and the constitution as they provide their input to policy makers.
One example of the possibility of this materializing is in respect of the Elections Act and voting rights under the constitution of the Cayman Islands.
Speaking to this, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, British Islands and Mediterranean Region (CPA BIMR), who deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Cayman Islands from 19 to 27 May 2017, reported the following in connection with Cayman’s 2017 general elections:
Regardless of the duration of residency, or the attainment of the status of permanent resident, all persons except those holding Caymanian status are ineligible to vote. This has led to the fact that, out of an estimated population of at least 60,000 people, only around 34,000 hold Caymanian status, with around 24,000 of them eligible to register to vote. The Mission received comments from long term residents without status in the Cayman Islands about their sense of disenfranchisement.
If the population continues to snowball and without any checks, it is possible that permanent residents and visiting workers (who may outnumber Caymanian voters by a significant sum in the future) may go beyond simply lodging complaints with international election observers at election time and, instead, protest for an outcome that will afford them a right to vote.
Again, Caymanians and other stakeholders must have an open dialogue to consider the possibilities of the different scenarios and determine their desired outcomes.
With this information in hand, policymakers must then show how these outcomes will be achieved within the vision of a long-term sustainable plan.