You might not have heard of Sophia Dilbert too often in the public arena, unless it is in relation to her support of local sports like flag football and football. However, the accomplished Caymanian attorney was just recently appointed to what has historically been one of government’s ‘hot seats’ – the Work Permit Board. The Journal’s Brent Fuller sat down for a short chat with the former Maples, Stuarts and Admiral Administration attorney, who is also the mother of two boys.
How many meetings have you chaired so far [as of 24 April]?
Is it still really busy? Are you hearing a lot of applications?
It’s been about 70-plus [applications] on each agenda, so I would consider it fairly busy. Now that comprises work permit applications, renewals, key employee designations, appeals from the chief immigration officer’s temporary decisions. We’re still meeting twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am to 4pm.
Is there any significant backlog that you have to work through or are you pretty much caught up?
Based on the statistics that I was given on the 31st of March, there isn’t a significant backlog.
For the month of March, there were approximately 1,200 [applications] but that’s combined with those applications heard by the Business Staffing Board.
Bear in mind, we don’t see every application. They’re now being processed by the [Immigration Department] administrators, it’s only a certain percentage of applications that come through that we process. We deal with applications where Caymanians have applied for the position.
How has it been so far, is there anything that’s taken you by surprise?
It’s gone fairly smoothly. I have a very experienced board working with me.
I’m still getting my feet wet, once I become more accustomed to the routine, if there are any areas or deficiencies that I identify, I will address them in consultation with the chief immigration officer and the board.
What appealed to you about the position?
I think, because I’ve always been civic-minded, I saw it as fulfilling that duty.
For now, I’ll stay for an indefinite period until a decision is made to appoint someone else or if I find I have overwhelming responsibilities outside of immigration such as family responsibilities.
Is it a full time job?
It’s very reasonable. For the time being its confined to the Monday/Wednesday meetings. Perhaps when I become a bit more well-known [as the Work Permit Board chair] I’ll be approached more outside of hours.
Since government has sectioned off certain work permit applications to the Immigration Department, do you find that makes your job easier?
It reduces the work load of the board because you have administrative staff doing straight applications that don’t have any issues, that are non-contentious. We don’t have any set criteria for how many applications we have to hear in a given week. At the moment, immigration have been doing a really exceptional job of ensuring applicants have submitted full applications. On the front line, they’re not accepting incomplete applications, so when they come to the board an application is complete. I’ve chaired six meetings and have yet to see an incomplete application.
Is there a way you approach this position philosophically, any sort of mind-set?
I have a responsibility to the public. I have to conduct myself professionally and ethically. Provided I can do that and deliver what I consider a professional decision, I think I’ve fulfilled my obligations.