CBC boss says changes have reduced Cuban migrants

| 18/07/2023 | 14 Comments
Cayman News Service
Cuban migrants off the coast of Cayman Brac (file photo by CBC)

(CNS): After a post-Covid surge of Cuban migrants arriving in Cayman waters last year, a change in legislation to allow Customs and Border Control to speed up asylum applications appears to have had an impact. No irregular migrants from the neighbouring island have arrived here since January, as word has spread about the new approach.

Speaking to CNS last week, CBC Director Charles Clifford said he believes that the changes made to the law at the end of last year have cut the numbers coming to Cayman, though the general migration from Cuba has not stopped amid increasing economic challenges there for ordinary people.

Clifford said that while it appears the expedited asylum process has had an effect, as “word can travel quickly on social media even to remote areas of Cuba”, the economic situation there means we have not seen the end of the movement of migrants.

The arrival last week of 37 Haitians in Jamaica presents a possible challenge for the authorities here if the migrants from that troubled country also turn their sights on Cayman, he noted. Given our geographical location, it is unlikely that Cayman would see a direct influx of people from Haiti, but as they could pass through Jamaica, it was a situation that the CBC was watching, Clifford said. However, Cubans are still the main migration concern for Cayman.

Although a much more strict asylum process is a deterrent, Clifford does not think it will stop everyone. “We expect to see more in future,” he said, describing the economic situation in Cuba as “a perfect storm” due to a “collapse in its tourism and agriculture sectors, especially tobacco crops”.

This was compounded earlier this month when the US authorities announced that anyone who has travelled to Cuba since 1 January 2021 will not get an ESTA visa waiver to travel to America and will be refused entry, a move which is bound to have a significant impact on what’s left of Cuba’s tourism sector.

With crumbling infrastructure and food supply problems getting worse, people will continue to make the perilous journey in unsafe vessels, he warned. While the new policy appears to have steered the boats away from local waters for the time being, there is no guarantee it will continue in the long term.

The driving force for the change in Cayman’s immigration policy was the significant challenge a surge in irregular migration can have on government resources, Clifford said. It applied to migrants who landed after December 2022, and most of the irregular migrants who have arrived since then have already been repatriated. Just one Cuban whose application for asylum appeared to be genuine remains here, going through the full process.

So far, there have been no legal challenges to the new policy, Clifford said. The legislative changes were based on advice from the attorney general and supported by parliament, and the CBC continues to engage with the Human Rights Commission to make sure all migrants are treated properly and their rights are protected, he noted.

The process still involves a full interview, but if it is obvious from the answers given and the assessment of the individuals that they do not have a well-founded asylum claim, they can now be deported almost immediately after that interview.

“We must continue to be procedurally fair,” said Clifford, adding that it was important that the Cayman Islands lived up to its international obligations. He said the CBC is keeping an eye on the challenges going through the UK courts in relation to the changes the British government has made to its immigration policies.

There are currently around 161 active asylum claims, most of them made by Cubans, though one asylum seeker is from Venezuela and one is from Colombia. Unusually, one Italian national made a claim after landing here aboard a private boat.

Most migrants are now housed in the community with support from various agencies. CBC is only using the Bodden Town Civic Centre as a place to hold people who are waiting on claims but have not yet been found accommodation in the community. Clifford said it continues to be hard to find landlords willing to accommodate Cuban migrants, and it is a multi-agency effort to manage the process.

Over the years, Cayman has spent a significant amount on dealing with migrants, but the numbers soared when the borders, which were closed here and in Cuba during the pandemic, finally opened.

The long-running policy in the Cayman Islands is to allow Cuban migrants to pass through Cayman waters if they can do so without any assistance from the government or members of the public — though this policy has been undermined by various agreements with the Cuban government.

If people aboard are in need of help or medical assistance, they are forced to land and go through the immigration process, but this can take many years because all migrants who land here make an immediate asylum claim.

While many Cubans have genuine grounds for seeking political asylum, a significant number are economic migrants — among the millions of people every year born in countries that offer little economic opportunity who choose to seek out a new life elsewhere.

Given that Cayman issues thousands and thousands of permits to foreign nationals every year, it is not clear why arrangements cannot be made with the Cuban Government to recruit more English speakers from that country. According to the most recent release of statistics from WORC, in June there were just 256 work permit holders from Cuba, compared to 15,241 from Jamaica.

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Comments (14)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    ‘Charles Clifford said he believes that the changes made to the law at the end of last year have cut the numbers coming to Cayman’

    Translation – he doesn’t really know

    • Anonymous says:

      In Jan 2023 the DHS launched a new legitimate migration pathway for US resident relatives whereby they can sponsor their loved ones probationary entry. No life and limb risk taking, no underworld border coyotes, or boats necessary. Cubans can now fly on tickets purchased by their families. The numbers arriving by foot at USA southern border have also plummeted with the introduction of this program. It has nothing to do with Cayman. This isn’t even the destination.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good! These rich cubans buyìng up every piece of land and developing palaces for the rich must go!

  3. Roll in big says:

    Still too many clowns here especially those mixed in criminal activity but their political connections and fake marriages serves them well now doesn’t it ???

    • Rude Boy says:

      So true and when the Status Board questions their convenient marriage their countryman lawyers want to sue the Governmrnt. Too many people too much room for crime, less oxygen, more accidents and watch out like the judicial system they threaten to take over generally speaking. Call to “Hurry” folks y’all who know get ma drift. Neva neva Neva fail I and I. Selah.

  4. Anonymous says:

    USA is the biggest terrorist of them all!

    • Anonymous says:

      Totally right. They slaughtered the Iraquis and have sent their gullible soldiers to practically every country that did not comply with their idea of “democracy”.
      No doubt they will recycle that Trump fellow, rinse and repeat until China invades Taiwan.
      Anyone else watch the Dead Zone with Christopher Walken? Greg Stillson is Donald Trump.

      • Anonymous says:

        Jakarta Method. Google it. Read it. An excellent book on the American foreign policy that is not the beacon of freedom and diplomacy its sold to the world as.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What happens to CAL and all its Max 8 aircraft when DHS bans them from landing their collaborator planes in MIA, TPA, DAL, JFK, LAX, LAS, DEN? Do we really think DHS will stop at ESTA? Time to rethink all facets of the Cayman-Cuban relationship before that happens. Replace HAV route with CUN or MEX.

    • Anonymous says:

      Lol, this is asinine. Do you know how many airlines fly to cuba?

      American Airlines
      Air Canada
      Air Europa
      Virgin Atlantic Airways
      Air France
      Turkish Airlines
      Condor Flugdienst
      United Airlines
      JetBlue Airways
      Air China
      LATAM Airlines Group SA

      Air travel to Cuba has never been restricted. Even Trumps stupid cap only limited the numbers of public US flights to Cuba to 3600 a year, and that restriction was removed a year ago.

      And the Esta thing is a silly concern, full US travel Visas are still available, the only reason they cancelled the Esta program was because Estas can be purchased without needing to go through the interview process that you need for a Visa and as Trump added Cuba to the State Sponsor of T list you need to do an interview now.


      So no, CAL is in no danger, stop being hysterical.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sensible airlines won’t fly empty routes for very long. Most Canadians would rather keep their lifetime USA travel privileges than eat canned veggies for a weekend. Not a craving worth retroactive hassle and redress potential.

  6. Anonymous says:



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