(CNS): The outgoing chairman of the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, Waide DaCosta, has listed a catalogue of problems surrounding the process of granting permanent residency and claimed he has been “vilified” by the press for issues that were beyond his control. Specifically naming the Cayman Compass, he noted that the paper has six employees with PR applications pending and, suggesting bias in their coverage, he said, “They have a vested interest, some may say a conflict with this issue.”
In a release issued on Friday to explain why he has quit as board chair, DaCosta described the hard work of the board members, all of whom are volunteers, and outlined the problems of understaffing in the immigration secretariat, lack of training for immigration staff who were supposed to take over the work of the board in dealing with PR applications, as well as fundamental issues with the policy itself.
Stressing that he was not responsible for changes to the system in October 2013, DaCosta indicated that he did not approve of them. “For the avoidance of doubt, I was not a proponent of the new PR system and have noted many issues with it,” he stated.
Having first explained that the board he headed had been faced in 2009 with a backlog of more than 4,000 PR applications (all of which he believes have, at this point, been dealt with), he noted that the new policy in 2013 removed the ‘key employee’ component, “which acted as a filter for applicants for PR”, and enabled people to go straight to permanent residency application if they had been here in the Cayman Islands for nine years.
He said, “This opened the category to any and everyone to apply for PR, regardless of contribution to Cayman or ability to provide for themselves whilst residing in Cayman.”
When the PR system was changed, the chief immigration officer (CIO) issued a directive that administrators within the immigration department, rather than the board, would be dealing with PR. “A new Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board was then appointed in or about July 2014 for two years. It was clear that it was intended the board would be phased out by 2016.”
However, he said that neither the CIO nor the administrators were equipped to deal with the PR applications “and in my humble opinion still do not possess the relevant training and are continuing to train on the job”. Immigration staff did not, in fact, even begin to determine PR matters until July 2017.
Meanwhile, the board was encountering the next major stumbling block. DaCosta does not detail it in his statement but it has been previously reported that its members struggled with applying points in some categories, especially the value of jobs. The courts then compounded the problem when the chief justice found the point system arbitrary and unfair, which meant the board could no longer deal with applications.
With the whole system stalled, Premier Alden McLaughlin commissioned local lawyer David Ritch to review it. Although Ritch’s report has never been made public, two years later the government decided to solve the problem by giving everyone the same points for their jobs.
Referring to the “2013 PR debacle”, DaCosta said it was not until March 2017 that he was “provided with the necessary amendment to the immigration law to move forward, only to be placed in a position where the immigration secretariat is dwindling to the point that there is no staff to process PR”.
He said he met with the acting CIO, the chief officer in the ministry and the director of boards to request that “the necessary personnel” were hired “to get this PR debacle dealt with”. He complained, “I am powerless to hire anyone yet I shoulder the blame. This is totally unfair and unjust.”
Clearly frustrated, DaCosta wrote to the premier and his chief officer earlier this year setting out his concerns and threatening to go to the press “to clear my name” in an attempt to goad them into action. But he said he was giving them a “heads-up” about what he required to get the job done and also insisting that the government issue a press release “to set the record straight”, presumably about his role as board chair.
However, although additional immigration staff were recruited, he said, “A press release was issued but nothing was clarified.” Instead, DaCosta said, he was asked to carry a new burden: not only to learn the new PR system but also train the board and the relevant immigration staff, even though this was time consuming and outside his remit as chairman.
The board members were then told that, “based on the staff available to us and the complex nature of the new PR system, only ten or so PR applications per meeting could be prepared”. He said the CSPR secretariat worked overtime to prepare these for the meetings, and the board dealt with all the ones that could be processed, even though they also had status applications, residency and employment rights of spouses of Caymanian and many other matters in addition to PR applications.
Sometimes the board had as many as 60 to 70 applications to consider “and ten-hour meetings became the norm”, he said. So the board added extra meetings on Tuesdays in the last month to get through the additional workload.
“The board had nothing to do with the backlog,” he stated, noting that its members were volunteers, whereas the “administrators are fully paid immigration staff and have been employed since 2014”.
DaCosta’s last day as chair of the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board was 31 August. Government announced the appointment of the new chair, local lawyer John Meghoo, on 7 September.