Witness reveals failings around immigration tests

| 25/01/2019 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman Islands Department of Immigration, George Town

(CNS): A senior manager with the immigration department revealed many policy failings over how it was conducting English Language Tests at the time an internal review began, which happened after the department was tipped off that something criminal could be going on. Nicola Solomon, an assistant chief officer, gave evidence on Thursday in the immigration conspiracy case, where seven people are currently on trial for taking or giving bribes to get non-English speakers through the language test so they could work in local bars. Solomon told the court that in many cases tests were not being conducted inline with policy because the department was short-staffed and under intense pressure, with up to 30 people arriving on any given day who needed to be tested before they could gain entry.

She also confirmed that at least one of the defendants had complained and raised concerns about the numerous problems with the English tests, including potential missing papers and the conditions under which they were being conducted, and had suggested that these should not be happening at the airport and that other arrangements needed to be made.

Solomon admitted that in most cases one officer alone was conducting each test, instead of the three people who should have been present. She also said that they were not conducted in a quiet, comfortable, non-intimidating environment, as required, but in a partially screened, cramped office with many people around, including other applicants for the tests, who could overhear what was happening.

In some cases more than one applicant was being tested at the same time in the same room, she said, and confirmed that no training had been given to immigration officers conducting the tests for more than a dozen years.

Solomon said that the department management believed that the test papers being used were all well known outside the department and that things were generally not up to standard because of the time pressures and workloads.

Under cross-examination, Solomon explained that the test was designed to have a senior officer administer the test to arriving applicants, another officer to witness it and a third to tabulate and verify the results before entering the data into the immigration system; but in reality, the 20-minute oral, reading and writing tests were undertaken by just one senior officer in the cramped office backing on to the staff tea room.

She also admitted that on occasions the test would be interrupted part-way through, as testing officers were called out to deal with other pressing duties or emergencies because the department was stretched to capacity.

Solomon accepted that there was flexibility with the answers and that there was a lack of consistency. In some cases, but not in others, immigration officers simplified words on the test to make it easier or accepted partially correct answers, as staff were urged to move the tests along.

She confirmed that there was no official standards or guidance on the test and agreed that the system was not working to any clearly defined criteria, and she accepted that officers, and even management, just wanted to get the test over and done with to keep the situation moving.

Solomon appeared on the stand after Joey Scott, the deputy chief of enforcement at immigration, had given evidence about some of the tests that were examined. This followed a tip-off to the department that something fraudulent might be happening regarding the English tests, which triggered an internal review.

Scott described it as a scoping exercise, in which they had asked some applicants to come back and retake the tests. In one case involving a woman who was introduced to the alleged criminal scheme by a woman who has pleaded guilty to being involved in the cash for tests conspiracy, he said it was clear from the outset she had very limited English. He said he had to bring in an interpreter to help in her retake the test and explain what was happening.

In the first test that she had taken on her arrival, which was conducted by one of the defendants in the case, the woman had scored 75%, the exact required pass mark, but on her re-sit a few weeks later she managed just 12.5%.

None of the defendants can currently be named for legal reasons.

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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