Immigration chief seeks regional association

| 17/02/2009

(CNS): Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said on Tuesday that he is hoping to establish a formal assocaition of senior immigration officers from Overseas Territories in the region, along with Jamaica and The Bahamas, in order to exchange policy information as well open channels of communication regarding regional border and security threats.

“Being small islands we have many similar challenges and an Association of Chief Immigration Officers will enable us to share policy ideas and development as well as communicate openly about matters of crime or other border related security matters,” Manderson told CNS.

In his opening remarks at Cayman’s first ever Chief Immigration Conference the CIO said it had been a long time coming and he was delighted the opportunity had finally arrived to create a formal organisation and network that would be able to benefit immigration agencies across the region.

“We have a wide range of complex duties and responsibilities and our work is varied and challenging,” he told the conference delegates. “We play a major role in security and cultural preservation as well as dealing with members of the non-national work force. We must always be prepared to adapt to the changing needs of our societies and it is important we come together to share ideas.”

Manderson said there was a need to formalize a regional network that could help chief officers explore ideas and enhance their effectiveness.

The importance of Immigration to Cayman’s economy was emphasised by Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts when he gave his remarks at the opening of the three-day conference, and said his government had committed significant resources to adapting the country’s immigration policies to meet the modern challenges. Immigration, he said, was a subject that he and his government colleagues had given considerable thought.

Tibbetts said the dynamics of Cayman’s labour force were constantly changing and there was a need to protect indigenous workers while at the same time ensuring the need for overseas workers by the business community was met. “This is thin line to walk,” he said. “Our population was 33,000 people in 1996 and it is more than 55,000 today, with the non-Caymanian component at 30,000. We have 125 nationalities living here and 25,000 on work permits.” He said it was important to recognise the flow of migrant workers and give those who have been here a long time or that had key skills the opportunity to integrate permanently.

LoGB noted too that the global economic situation may give rise to an increase in crime and the associated risk to border security. Ensuring people seeking entry are genuine and not trying to enter illegally was as challenging as removing those who break our laws. However, Tibbetts said his government had given significant consideration to refugees and economic migrants. He said the government had improved procedures for processing claims for asylum and was ensuring compliance with the UNHCR. He also revealed that government has spent some CI$2 million in recent years housing and caring for Cuban migrants while they wait to be repatriated to Cuba under the controversial MOU. He said the migration centre facility had been approved by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee and the UNHCR.

Donovan Ebanks, Acting Deputy Governor, noted the unique situation of countries like Cayman that were dependent on overseas labour and, as a result, the Immigration Department was tasked with a massive labour management role.

He said that border control was still a primary function, and in these unusual and economically challenging times there was a need to find solutions to complex issues. He cited the dilemma that on the one hand countries want border passage to be easy and painless to preserve traveller and visitor numbers but that they couldn’t lose sight of the fact that this presented incentives among the unscrupulous. “We need to work harder at making it easier for the good to enter and harder for the bad with, given the economic climate, less resources than in past,” Ebanks added.

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