Published 28th November 2008, 3:28pm
Extract from Leader of Government Businses Press Briefing on 6 November 2008
Last month the Members of the Legislative Assembly gave unanimous support to the passing of the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2008. Although the Bill contained a considerable number of amendments, one of the most important was the introduction of a requirement that guest workers must submit to their fingerprints being taken and recorded. This measure gave rise to considerable interest in the media and with the public at the time and was the focus of much positive comment by Members of both sides of the House in their contributions to the debate on the Bill. This is a highly important step in our efforts to combat and prevent immigration and identity crime. I will say more about that shortly but I would first like to spend a few minutes outlining how this new requirement will work in practice.
As I mentioned, the Bill proposing the introduction of these new requirements has passed through the parliamentary stages. It will become law upon receiving Assent by His Excellency The Governor. When this happens, the law will require an application for the grant or renewal of a work permit to be accompanied by a written undertaking by the worker to submit to being fingerprinted and to their fingerprints being recorded electronically. In practice, what will happen is that by signing a work permit application form the worker is agreeing that they will submit to having their fingerprints taken and recorded. In the case of a person already employed in the Islands this consent will be given when their next work permit renewal application is submitted. In the case of a person coming to take up employment in the Islands their consent will have been obtained when they signed the first temporary work permit or annual work permit application form. The second stage of the process is the actual taking and recording of the fingerprints. For persons already working here this will take place shortly after their next work permit renewal. The person will be required to attend Immigration Headquarters within seven days of receiving notification that the renewal application was approved and have their fingerprints recorded by an electronic scanner. For persons coming to take up employment, their fingerprints will be taken when they arrive at the airport. In both cases the process will be quick and easy. Once the fingerprints are taken, they will automatically be checked against our database and should this raise any flags, then appropriate steps will be taken.
I mentioned at the beginning that this is a highly important step in our efforts to combat and prevent immigration and identity crime. It is exactly that - a step. By virtue of the fact that we are starting from scratch it will take about two years to obtain anything like a complete record of all guest workers residing here. This is based on the fact that all work permits are in the vast majority of cases issued for a period of two years or less. However, considering that there are presently some 27,000 guest workers here, this will ultimately be a valuable source of data. The benefits of having a database of fingerprints are clear. It will enable our Immigration Officers to detect persons who are seeking to use a false identity in order to gain entry, perhaps because they have previously committed crimes here and as such are prohibited immigrants. Persons may also seek to use a false identity because they are criminals in other countries and are already known to international law enforcement agencies. A fingerprint database will also be a considerable asset to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service when investigating crimes. For example, police officers who have obtained fingerprint evidence from the scene of a crime will be allowed search the Immigration Department database for matches. While the introduction of fingerprinting for guest workers is a positive move, I must acknowledge that this has limitations. For example, checks against this database will only reveal if a person has previously come to the attention of law enforcement agencies in the Cayman Islands and if the person has never worked before in the Cayman Islands we will have no record of them. The next step is to gain access to regional and international criminal record databases. I can say that officials are already in contact with overseas law enforcement agencies with a view to sharing fingerprint information.
Clearly, this would greatly enhance our ability to detect persons who we should not be allowing to live or work in our Islands.
Another limitation is that for the moment the fingerprinting requirements only apply to work permit holders. But consideration is being given to extending the requirements to other groups of person. For example, visa nationals may be required to give their fingerprints when making a visa application overseas. As part of the vetting of the application their fingerprints would be checked against our database and persons for whom we should not be issuing a visa will hopefully be detected at that stage before they reach our borders. This approach is presently being introduced worldwide by the UK Border Agency. I would like to end by saying that the Government is fully committed to implementing whatever measures are necessary to ensure that our Islands are safe for our families and for those who visit us. We understand that there is a need to move quickly and that fingerprinting of guest workers is an important element of this. But it is equally important to ensure that we choose the very best system for our needs both now and in the future. This system must meet the requirements of a wider action plan to combat illegal immigration and crime in general and as such thorough research must be undertaken. I would therefore ask for patience as we undertake this process.