Is the PR history and culture test fit for purpose?

| 04/04/2023 | 68 Comments

Nick Joseph writes: For many years, persons seeking to obtain permanent residence in the Cayman Islands have taken a history and culture test. It started as a mechanism to attempt to measure a person’s assimilation into the Caymanian community. Being able to hum a verse of “Munzie Boat” and understanding that “soldiers” wear shells, not uniforms, could get you part of the way there. No one had to study anything. Aspiring permanent members of our community simply lived it, and it was good. 

Of course, the winds of change wreaked havoc on the boat in the sound. All in the name, or in consequence, of progress, we crushed the soldiers under our cars (to the extent we did not smash them for bait) and collected their homes as trinkets off the beach.

At the same time, the barcadere became the cove, dolphin became mahi mahi, weeping willows became casuarinas and the sea became the ocean. Cocoplum went from being a fruit to an address. Even our spelling is now changing, as has, seemingly, our ability to freely access and enjoy the coastline. It has all fundamentally happened in as little as 30 years. The pace of change (some call it progress) is accelerating. 

The lyrics came true. At least in Grand Cayman, it appears that “all the soldiers are dead, boys, all the soldiers are dead”.

It used to be that Caymanian culture was learned by enjoying a good rundown with friends, all the better if washed down with swanky. In that setting, on a moonlit porch, expatriates could learn of Christmas breezes, men of iron in wooden ships, smoke pots and National Bulk Carriers. In moments of silence, they could ponder the similarities between wompas and flip flops and the differences between types of breadkind, as well as distinguish between squabs and prop props.    

Those days have passed. 

Many people yearn for those simpler times and the relative cohesiveness of the community. The legislation we operate under, first drafted in 1971, has always enshrined focus (whether agreed upon by those administering it or not) on “cushioning” the Caymanian way of life against the impact of inevitable change.

Indeed, the Permanent Residence Points System, prescribed by the Cabinet, emphatically states that “an applicant’s integration into the Caymanian society will be measured by reference to his [sic] knowledge of local history, tradition, customs and current events”.

Despite the inherent legal (and political) expectations, the permanent residence history and culture test has, in reality, little to do with actual integration into Caymanian society. It is a test of knowledge (or at least recollection). Reading books is good and will help, but ultimately, and several years ago, the government decided to provide a course.

The course has been spectacularly successful. Attendees seem to do extremely well on the test, sometimes scoring 100%. Unfortunately, often due to work or family commitments, not everyone can attend the course or spend the CI$200 required to participate.

Never mind. There has been even more progress. It appears that most of the questions (and answers) are freely available on an app and otherwise in wide circulation. Some accordingly suggest there is now no need for any prospective permanent resident to spend any time on a porch, read any history books or attend a course. 

Still, we accept that, however they may be learned, it is better the facts be known than not.

Incredibly (although not the fault of the initial authors of the test), some of the facts on which people are assessed have not been consistently factual. The issue has been known (and attempts made to have it addressed have been ongoing) for a decade.

Asking a PR applicant who the minister of tourism is but failing to provide that minister’s name amongst the options for the multiple choice response, thus making the question impossible to answer correctly, is not a good look – especially if such a thing were to happen multiple times (and seemingly for years), even after concerns being raised.

Some facts are important for people to understand who we are and where we come from. The Treaty of Madrid, Captain Pack and Long Celia are all highly relevant and important. (Hey, Bodden Town! Shouldn’t we get her a statue?)

On the other hand, and although I am a fan of them all, it appears to me that steel pans, jerk chicken and Batabano ought not be a focus on integrating expatriates, although recognition that these things are traditionally no more Caymanian than the internet or rum and coke, probably should be.

Let there be no doubt that choosing who can and should gain and maintain the privilege of being a settled resident of these Islands should be firmly in the hands of the Caymanian people applying appropriate and transparent standards. That prospective permanent residents be asked to evidence their particular contribution, participation and commitment is not offensive. The interests of these Islands and their people must be paramount.

However, the system (and every material aspect of it) must be fair and rational. The Constitution requires it, and our forefathers would expect no less.    

The reality is, if we fail to treat people fairly, the Constitution will ultimately deprive the Caymanian people, through the actions of their elected representatives, of the right to determine who can stay and, quite properly, hand that determination to the courts.

The easy answer, of course, if we wish to avoid that is to ensure that our systems, however strict we wish them to be, treat everyone fairly.  

Perhaps someone might (in furtherance of maintaining their prescriptive right, albeit in polite disregard of any inappropriately located no trespassing sign) peaceably sit in the shade of a grape tree, stare at the sea and contemplate that possibility. It is not too late.

Nick Joseph is a partner at HSM and an immigration expert.


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Comments (68)

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  1. Anon. says:

    I thought the author of the comment said she was a dependent on his work permit so where would she be getting status from?
    If he had status, he would not have a work permit would he?

  2. Time for truth says:

    Has any of you seen the social studies text books? l bet any money 99% of you could not answer some simple questions from that test. if it needs proper vetting it does. There are tons of educators who can vet and give questions with correct answers to use. And please admit the culture is changing for the young. So older ones keep it alive. Every growing and developed country have this process it does not need to be decisive and need fair measures. l wish the few bitter people would stop spew hate especially for those of your brothers and sisters that share your heritage. Every country debates assimilation. No matter what you don’t throw away your culture of origin.So let’s just make the process fair, let us make it one where you learn the culture, appreciate it and live together sharing peacefully.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Just going to leave this here so unna know what this guy is about.

    https://hsmoffice.com/law/immigration-law/

  4. Anonymous says:

    The real question for me is, what is this Caymanian culture I’m supposed to be assimilating with? The generational Caymanians I know would rather spend the weekend in Miami or skiing in Colorado than sit around playing dominoes listening to someone playing spoons or whatever the test says we do. Not one of my “real” Caymanian friends are camping on the beach this Easter because not one of them are on island! This idea that expats must assimilate is absurd. Should I buy a 60ft Hatteras and go big game fishing, maybe a couple of apartments in the Ritz like our MPs, should I be bombing round Rum Point on a jetski on a Sunday morning getting drunk or should I be in church? Should I be camping on the beach next weekend, or, like we do every year, spend the following weekend with the kids cleaning up the beach?

    Seems to me some people want expats to embrace a way of life that most Caymanians have themselves abandoned. It’s sad when places change from what we fondly remember but change they do… everywhere.

    By all means make PR harder to get, although that risks tilting the balance away from educated professionals toward baby mamas and dadas, but that’s your choice. As Mr Josephs says, just apply those laws fairly and in a timely manner or the courts will eventually do it for you and you’re/we’re really not going to like that.

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    • Anonymous says:

      You don’t have to mimic a Caymanian’s life style. You just need to respect the foundations of your host country.

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    • Beaumont Zodecloun says:

      You don’t know a single generational Caymanian who can ski, let alone wants to ski in Colorado. That makes me and others wonder what else of your acerbic anti-Caymanian narrative is made up.

      If you achieve PR, you are fortunate. It SHOULD be difficult to acquire. We are a small “nation”. People acquire PR and then bring in THEIR people. It should be an exclusive group of people who have demonstrated that they care deeply about the Cayman Islands, her people, her seas and her lands.

      Caymanians haven’t abandoned the old ways. Their youth have embraced (for the most part) ways that are American. This is a young and unexperienced “nation”. We are a Dependency Territory. There is not a lot of room here. People who are granted the right to stay and work, or just to stay, should be special people who truly understand and love the Cayman culture. Simple as that.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Too many times the mere mention of PR, Status and culture divides us instead of brimgimg us together. Being the small island that we all live on it is very likely that we will all have some kind of interaction with each other if they become the “new” Caymanian and remain here, therefore to make our lives simpler and happier we need understand a bit about each other. Cayman in thirty years or so has gone from each one knowing everyone to not knowing who our next door neighbour is; that is not a good way to co exist. I had two very enjoyable experiences when two of my colleagues were approaching the time to attend their culture classes in preparation for applying for PR. We had good working relationship and me being one who is proud of my Caymanianness and culture, they naturally asked me to help them out. We spent lunch hours together in the office telling each other our stories and explaining our customs and culture. We went to the museum where we watched the short movie that is shown there on our culture and looked at the artifacts. We also went to the Narional Gallery. When the time came I gladly gave them references- because having worked with them for so many years I felt confident that they would enhance our way of life. We no longer work together but we have remained in touch.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Well said Nick Joseph.
    I was elated to read that you had described so gently, what is in the heart of every Caymanian.
    You are so right that those who wish to be here must show some respect for their hosts, and their past

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    • Anonymous says:

      Did we read the same text?

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    • Anonymous says:

      Good job Nick! . A real Cayman boy. I knew you from you were a little boy? Worked at CIBC Trust With your mom and told her the many ways to cook breadfruit!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Every now and then we come across a well intentioned, articulate humble person who seemed to have enjoyed and still respect our way of life that he grew up in. No doubt he has travelled many to places but loves and respects this little 2×4 Rock. Nick you warms my heart.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    I recall several questions in the Test as having incorrect answers – one on slavery, one on CIMA and one regarding maps of Cayman. Ultimately it didn’t affect me, but for some 1 point could be the difference between remaining on the island and leaving.
    I also attended four lectures by the chancer university lecturer (a waste of $200 btw …) he hawked his book out for $50 at the outset of the class, and then at the end of class handed out a booklet of 20+ pages containing corrections. Those that bought the book looked a bit miffed.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    How long is Seven Mile Beach?

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  8. Anonymous says:

    If the test makes it harder for more foreigners to come and stay here then so be it. Every government in the world is inefficient and gangster in my eyes. If you want PR then go to Canada where you pretty much just have to open the door, Trudeau will be waiting there for you with some Tim Hortons.

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  9. Corruption is endemic says:

    Keep fighting the good fight Nick. Your head must be bruised from banging it against the wall so many times…

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    • Anonymous says:

      Nick Joseph you have been a beacon of hope for many who have strived to make Cayman their home.
      HSM should be very proud to have you represent them in such a noteworthy cause.

  10. Bonnie Scott says:

    My friend spent the money to take the course on Cayman history and also paid for the airfare from the Brac and overnight stay. Yet his exam was not at all on what was presented in the course but instead completely on current events which hadnot been taught. This is criminal cheating or theft and I am angry about it. He should be given an apology and reimbursed for costs and time or been given another chance at an exam for which he had been prepped.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Current events should not have to be taught. You learn those under the grape tree too.
      Cayman Brac is being inundated with expats who not only don’t assimilate but are taking over areas that once belonged to us (ex: high school netball/tennis court, loud Spanish music at beach).

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  11. Anonymous says:

    can we stop giving away points for fake and insincere charity work please. Being enrolled as a mentor or any other community work should actually require to attend…not just the photo op for the newspaper but the actual activity youre pretending to give a crap about.

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  12. Aisha says:

    The history and cultural test does not teach you much if any at all. It does not add to what we have have enjoyed by being accepted as part of the Cayman culture. And yes, some of the questions are badly worded and the answers are wrong so one is left to pick the closest or best wrong answer. Honestly, the PR application is more geared towards the rich that the average. The costs associated with the whole thing is crazy.

    I can hear you now…well then maybe you shouldn’t apply if you can’t afford it but, when you have been here for a long time, have Caymanian children and really want to be a Caymanian then that is the best option. So if you are a single parent, with a house paying this crazy mortgage, children, bills etc. having to raise all that money, pay for the paperwork, pay for the course then sit the test is crazy but again, there is no choice. You do it. It is very sad that the test really doesn’t show you the real Cayman or attempt to include your experiences of what it is to be ‘Caymanian’.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Can someone give me a few sentences setting out what “Cayman culture” is?

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      • Anonymous says:

        Popeyes, cruelty to animals and selling your land and then complaining about it

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        • Anonymous says:

          Blaming Jamaicans and expats nonstop

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        • Anonymous says:

          Electing a crook or complete in exit to parliament, watch them milk the post, sell their vote and government policy to the highest bidder, not deliver on any of their election promises, then promptly re- elect them because they are a son of the soul or gave you a freebie.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Every “culture”, including yours, is based on three things. Eating the unpalatable, wearing an outfit of some sort and gyrating to something deemed musical.

        In my case, it’s haggis, kilt and fling.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Turtling, thatch rope, beach, spending time with family, duppy stories, Batabano , etc. 🙂 Hope that helps!

      • Anonymous says:

        It is obviously much better than the culture you immigrated from hence why you’re here.

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    • Anonymous says:

      If you have Caymanian children I would be astonished if you needed any points at all from the culture test to get past 110.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s part of the weeding-out process. But it is a stupid test. Asking who a current minister is has nothing to do with either history or culture. Not including the correct name is just the cherry on top.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    It’s a memory test. Nothing more. You might as well ask people to memorise pi to 40 decimal places and award points for that.

    Just like the PR test I could probably spend a week committing that to memory and then immediately consign it to the back of my mind, never to be recalled again, for there is no practical need or value for me to be able to recall it. Just like there is no practical need or value to be able to recall how many people were in the vestry in 1950. For either me or caymanians (barely any of which will have the faintest clue what the answer would be – quite rightly – I have also forgotten but could have given you the answer on test day).

    What the test does highlight is the relative lack of history and culture here. Asking participants what the National Workforce Development Agency is for and branding that under the banner of history and culture is a bit of a stretch. Spoiler alert – the answer is basically the name of the agency.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I do not normally subscribe to the mantra of “go back to where you came from” or don’t let the door hit you on the way out” but right now I am really tempted. Obviously you are bitter and unhappy here so you might have to make some changes. Cayman is not for everyone.. Please remember you cannot run from yourself, every where you go you will find yourself. Enjoy the history and culture wherever it is.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Standard response to any negative comment against Cayman. Go back to where you came from. Maybe that should be a question in the “history and culture” test.

        Where I come from my history and culture used to think it was ok to say “go back to where you came from” to immigrants but that kind of went out of fashion with disco in the 70s. The fact that it’s still the default response here just goes to show how far behind this place is culturally.

        That’s not to say I don’t prefer being here to being where I grew up. Nice weather, nice people, triple the salary versus the country I was born, zero income tax. But trust me, I’m not here for the history and culture. And not is anyone else.

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  15. >”if we fail to treat people fairly, the Constitution will ultimately deprive the Caymanian people, through the actions of their elected representatives, of the right to determine who can stay and, quite properly, hand that determination to the courts.”

    It is beyond time for the courts to take over. CIG and the “World Class Civil Service™” have singularly failed to address any of the major failures in Cayman: Mount Trashmore, traffic congestion, a train/monorail system in lieu of endless cars, the PR backlog, etc.

    Chris Saunders, in a transparent attempt to stoke racial tensions and engage in traditional Jamaican ‘garrison politics’ appears to have blocked PR and status applications for over a year. Enough is enough. This would be bad enough in a banana republic (e.g. Chris’s spiritual home of Jamaica), but Cayman’s depends wholly and exclusively on the economic contribution from international investors and expats. At the moment, it looks corrupt and incompetent. People joke that the only difference between BVI and Cayman is that Andrew Fahie got caught, whereas Cayman politicians’ back-handers are more subtle. That seems likely to be true: witness the road expansion plan, which won’t address the lack of a non-road-based public transport, but will enrich those who own land near the new road.

    We should also allow expats to both vote and stand for election: plainly the current system is not working. The successful parts of Cayman are the private sector where expats dominate. The unsuccessful parts are the public sector, where racial preferences and affirmative action dominate. Here’s a crazy idea – perhaps stop looking for political competence in a population of only 30,000 people?…

    Also see https://caymannewsservice.com/2023/03/premier-admits-widening-of-caymans-economic-success-gap/#comment-587383

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    • J says:

      To be fair, a larger population (much, much larger too) hasn’t really helped the UK or the USA in that regard, has it?

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  16. Anonymous says:

    Aside from your rather insightful banter Nick I think the question we really need to ask is, is if it is sustainable? Bearing in mind Cayman’s population growth is unsustainable solely based on landmass and inadequate infrastructure we need to up the ante and be better in our screening process.

    I say we use AI and hypnosis to determine if PR applicants are an agreeable fit with Cayman’s culture and people. This way can directly we determine our social evolution as it relates to immigrants. As an expat with many years here myself I’ve blended with many an expat crowd and have witnessed when some individuals feel comfortable the shields come down. The reveal is disturbing to say the least, some are truly colonial minded and some are just plain racist, these instances are mostly isolated, but still unsettling.

    Some generational Caymanians no matter the skin colour are racist too but anyone coming to settle here should be setting a prime example and not be adding to the problem.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Colonial mindedness is how Cayman gained its few treasures. We should be happy we’re still connected to the UK; I couldn’t imagine we would be better off if we went the way of Jamaica, Trinidad, The Bahamas, Barbados… We’re lucky, they were not.

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    • Nautical-one345 says:

      Well said!

  17. PhenomAnon says:

    Do away with the written test entirely and instead have applicants put forward 10 Caymanians to be interviewed so they can attest to the applicants assimilation.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Can’t even get half that to show up to their own jobs.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Yes … getting snide remarks as driftwood, white privilege or a refusal to undertake delegated tasks really makes me want to assimilate with my Caymanian colleagues.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, if only! Been here 18 years about to rollover again. Have no family, made Cayman my home blissfully living in the peace of the East. Caymanians are my family and friends now.

      But I don’t have property I rent. I don’t do work for charities I work with my neighbours and children, help rescue/rehome dogs in the community. I couldn’t be more integrated from day 1 everyone who knows me would confirm. I haven’t ‘invested’ anything in Cayman as rent counts for nothing, and I probably wouldn’t pass their dumb tests either.

      But I do have savings and a good pension and can tell you tales shared and passed down by the old folk and many good friends who have now sadly passed away. I can probably outfish you night fishing beyond the reef, and split your sides with laughter sharing a drink in the cabana on a hot day.

      I’m sad to be leaving again, my friends and neighbours are mad that I have to leave again. I don’t know where I’ll go but I do know in a year or so I’ll be back!

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      • Anonymous says:

        @10.16pm

        You are not alone! There are many of us expats on island who are like you. I myself have lived here in Cayman since 2002 and only taken my rollover breaks. I own property now but I still know with the points system that I probably won’t make it up to the 110 and I don’t have the money to waste with the application to be turned down. I have several friends who have lived here longer than me and they all also took their rollover breaks and returned. Most of us in total have lived here longer than we have in our own Countries from where we came. But immigration will never look at that. They only look at the expats who steamroll in with pockets and bank accounts flushed with cash.
        Cayman was my home from before I even came here, my heart belonged here.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Which would soon become a flourishing little sideline for some!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Nick Joseph you’re very much on point.

    The persons in charge of our public processes for years are generally JGHS ‘graduates’, with little overseas tertiary education and, mainly, exposure! They simply have not had to assimilate into a new society so they have no clue of how that is experienced. So they write laws, regulations, processes from their blinded views and limited knowledge.

    Assimilation is, firstly, a personal choice and secondly an opportunistic experience. But a society should provide and encourage all manner of assimilation activities and opportunities – such as have existed in Cayman since late 60s “development” and immigration increased. More bars, more local events, more activities open to all to participate and mix. In Cayman, I recall the days when “expats” first hung out at “their” tennis clubs and rugby clubs with people of their own nationalities. Human nature. However, soon many of those expats were mingling with locals on football teams, cricket pitches, some drama clubs, service clubs, some bars and clubs, etc. Assimilating into Cayman society. And, to be honest, there were some who chose not to, so much.

    I moved from Cayman to a fair-sized UK Geordie town in 1972 when I was 14 years old, when Cayman had approximately 10,000 people and my new home had approximately 100,000. Total culture shock, especially with the accent! I never actively set out to learn everything I could about my new home, but absorbed all that I could from school and friends.

    However, apart from my school activities, within two months this Black Caymanian teenager had enrolled in a local Boys Brigade Troop (learned to play marching drum), joined a youth club and started guitar lessons. Obviously, I expanded my pool of friends outside school, some of whom are friends to this day and still have contact. I never experienced racism and found myself fully accepted.

    Friends of mine would ask me “Mac, why are you different from the Pakkis (their words), they don’t mix with us but you made yourself one of us?” My answer was, “It’s probably just a cultural thing. We have some white expats at home who don’t want to mix with the locals, while many do.” That was as far as my “green” 14-year-old mind could explain geo-social immigration traits.

    In fact, I had no choice but to assimilate! I was the only Black boy in my school of over 400, I was the only Black boy in my BB Troop, youth club, guitar class. I used to be stared at when I walked along the side walk by myself or with my friends.

    But it never intimidated or discouraged me and I was NEVER treated differently…..it taught me acceptance!

    So, the scribes of our immigration policies, tests etc. should ideally be persons who know assimilation or who have experienced it and can define the processes required to encourage and foster assimilation among expats. Questions on a form about local customs and practices DOES NOT invite or encourage assimilation into our society!

    As Nick Joseph has stated “aspiring permanent residents simply lived it (Cayman life) and it was good”. I must say, some Caymanians’ attitudes towards expats perhaps discourage much desire for assimilation. Moronic and corrupt leadership has surely projected a negative image of Caymanians and is like a deterrent to many expats to embrace Caymanians!! Who wants to get to know or mingle with corrupt morons? That’s a perception of many expats. I know because some have told me!

    I wish the world class morons in charge good luck with achieve their goals with a juvenile general knowledge test!

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Asking someone to recall the exact date there was a fire at the town hall in George Town has nothing to do with how well they have integrated into local culture and society.
    This test also meant my wife couldn’t qualify for PR in her own right. She had a stroke a few years ago and lives what most would see as a completely normal life now, except she struggles to learn and recall certain new information, especially dates, names, and numbers. We tried but she just couldn’t learn all of the dates and details needed to accurately recall them all for a test, especially difficult when she would be under stress, knowing that a failure could mean having to leave the island. She would have needed 36 right out of 40 – a big ask. And even worse when the right answer isn’t even presented as one of the options.
    She’s here as a dependant on my permit now, but it makes getting status much more difficult for her.

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    • Anonymous says:

      It shouldn’t, if you’re married for 7 years she can get status based on that.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Once she has been here for 15 years as a dependant or WP holder or combination of both she can apply for status of her own right

  20. Anonymous says:

    Smiths Cove has always been a cove!

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    • Anonymous says:

      It was always called Smith’s Barcadere and many old Caymanians will fight you on this one. I’ve been schooled many a time on it and the sign says Barcadere now.

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      • Anonymous says:

        11:28am – you may be trolling so I’ll bite. A cove? Maybe. It was always called Barcadere. If there’s a significant geographical difference I’ll defer to you. But I get @3:34pm’s comment.

        In the context of the topic subject- Smith’s Barcadere. For whatever it’s worth.

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      • Anonymous says:

        They better all come at once! lol

        I grew up half a mile away and it has been Smiths Cove for at least the last 40 years

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  21. anonymous says:

    Prup prups, or prop props? The later seems to refer to those spinning devices used to propel some flying machines. I always wondered about the spelling. Then there is the other name for them: bugige, budgige, buggige or even buggidge. I am getting carried away here. Wish I had an old wife to put in the pot today for a rundown.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    No

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  23. Anonymous says:

    no. get rid of it.

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