A crisis of Cayman identity

There was a time when determining who was, and who was not, a Caymanian could generally be answered by the response to a simple question of who one’s parents are or, in actual terms, “who you fa?” While that question can still be of assistance, lately the response elicited can be more complicated.

Those navigating the immigration laws of the Cayman Islands are aware that determination as to whether an individual is Caymanian or not can be critical. It can effect fundamental issues such as to the ability to offer, or continue to offer, someone employment and eligibility for government assistance.

The concept of who is a Caymanian is addressed in the Immigration Law. There are three broad categories: those who are Caymanian as of right; those who are Caymanian by grant (by a board or Cabinet); and those who are Caymanian by entitlement.

I once was Caymanian

It is quite possible for a person to cease to be a Caymanian and this can lead to complications. A letter issued to a person who became Caymanian by entitlement as a child is of itself no reflection on their current immigration standing as the right may be automatically lost at age 18, unless a continuation was successfully applied for. A person awarded status, now known as the Right to be Caymanian, on the grounds of marriage to a Caymanian may have ceased to be Caymanian on the breakdown of the relationship. A birth certificate demonstrating that a person was born in the Cayman Islands, particularly after the mid-1970s, is not proof that an individual is Caymanian, although it can be of assistance, depending on the immigration position and nationalities of the named parent or parents at the time of birth.

Cayman Islands Passport

Most holders of Cayman Islands passports are Caymanian, but many, perhaps even thousands, are not. A Cayman Islands passport is no evidence that the holder is a Caymanian. Being a British Overseas Territories Citizen of the Cayman Islands (and thus entitled to a Cayman Islands passport) is a prerequisite to most Permanent Residents being eligible to apply to become Caymanian.

Some holders of Cayman Islands passports may not have the right to remain in the Cayman Islands as the passport is in effect only a travel document for Cayman Immigration purposes. There are even large numbers of Caymanians who are not entitled to hold Cayman Islands passports.

These intricacies present the authorities (ranging from the registrar of lands to the police, and sometimes Immigration officials themselves) and human resource professionals with some difficulty when seeking to determine if someone is Caymanian. Ironically, those who became Caymanian in recent history by grant will have an official letter or certificate available for them, provided there has not been a revocation or expiry of the permission, so the question can be addressed relatively simply. Unfortunately, and even ironically, persons who have been Caymanian since birth are those who can face the greatest difficulty in establishing their immigration status. Those who are Caymanian as of right or by descent are now finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate that they are in fact Caymanian.

Without any documentation available to provide clear official evidence, the Immigration Law allows that persons may apply to the chief immigration officer for formal acknowledgement. Increasingly, Caymanians are having to take this step to prove their immigration standing.

Caymanians in the workplace

Lacking confirmation that staff are in fact Caymanian can place businesses and employees at some risk or disadvantage.

Unfortunately, there are increasing instances where businesses are finding that a small number of their apparently Caymanian staff are not Caymanian. This creates not only difficulty for employers but also difficulty for the employees themselves, some of whom may erroneously have believed that they were Caymanian. In several instances, such persons have even had to depart the Cayman Islands.

Even if the ultimate result of the discovery is not quite so dramatic, discovering that an employee is in fact not Caymanian will usually mean that their services must end immediately pending the securing of alternative permissions – and, particularly where an employer cannot demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to confirm the actual immigration status of their employees, exposes employers to the risk of prosecution for employing an expatriate without a work permit.


The immigration authorities place responsibility for ensuring that Caymanian employees are in fact Caymanian at the feet of employers. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that all is in fact as it seems. Let the employer beware.