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History and Culture Test for Permanent Residence in the Cayman Islands – Is It fit for Purpose?

Business 06 Apr, 2023 Follow News

Nick Joseph

By: Nick Joseph | Partner at HSM

 It is again the subject of much discourse in the press. HSM Partner and Immigration Expert Nick Joseph weighs in on the matter. 

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 the 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 now 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, 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 correctly answer) is not a good look – especially if such a thing were to happen multiple times (and seemingly for years) even following 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. 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 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.


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