Dr. Tasha Ebanks-Garcia is in the Cayman Islands and we understand that she is here to sort out her immigration status to continue working in the London office. Can you confirm what exactly that means and why it would not have been done before her leaving the Cayman Islands?
Confused student in Leeds
Dear Confused student in Leeds:
Thank you for this question. Attempting to obtain a straightforward answer to this question has led us down more rabbit holes than Peter Rabbit knew existed.
We have checked multiple sources and will provide the information that we have been able to confirm and what remains a question. Firstly, we did reach out to Dr. Ebanks-Garcia and were promised a response to four simple questions which have not yet been received. A skeptic would undoubtedly conclude that the inability to answer simple questions about one's status in the United Kingdom is beyond suspicious – but we err on the side of caution. We will give the benefit of the doubt in that regard.
The questions about the Cayman Islands Government Office Representative, Dr. Tasha Ebanks-Garcia's ability to work legally in the United Kingdom following her appointment to the overseas office last year are essential for several reasons. Firstly, if she does not have the proper documentation in place, then her employer ultimately dropped the ball on what would appear to be a relatively straightforward matter.
Her employer at the time of her appointment would, of course, have been the Cayman Islands Government and, more specifically the former Premier Alden McLaughlin's Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation and Maritime Affairs (MITIAMA). Of course, McLaughlin is not responsible for this sort of paperwork at all but his Chief Officer, Eric Bush, should have spearheaded it.
Interestingly enough, Bush has served in the same post in recent times. While it would have been his responsibility, it also falls on Dr. Ebanks-Garcia herself to ensure that her documentation is in order and passports stamped with requisite approvals.
We know Ebanks-Garcia only holds a Canadian passport and entered the United Kingdom as a visitor with that passport. If the details stopped there, then it would appear she did not have the necessary authorization to work in the UK. The position seems that one year later, she has returned to the Cayman Islands for an extended period to now obtain her UK passport and regularize her status.
We also know that Dr. Ebanks-Garcia arrived around April 1 in the Cayman Islands and plans to stay in the jurisdiction until almost August. When questioned about why she is here, she has told some individuals it's to obtain her UK passport and that working remotely is not an issue. She has extended the term of her return to Cayman at least once thus far.
As an aside, let me take this opportunity to say that it presents an interesting question about the necessity of even having her in the United Kingdom on a full-time basis. Suppose she can carry out her duties remotely. Why not have her visit when required and save the taxpayers money in relocation fees, accommodation, and whatever additional stipends she receives for housing and schooling her children. London is undoubtedly not a cheap place to reside. But we digress …
Ebanks-Garcia has Cayman status and was born in Canada to a Caymanian father and Canadian mother. Sources indicate she mostly grew up in Canada. She has only ever held a Canadian passport. Canadians require a work visa, ancestry visa, or youth mobility scheme visa to be able to work in the UK. She has neither of those.
CMR understands that she was recently naturalized before leaving for the post and shortly after accepting the post. CMR spoke with a UK attorney on the matter Saturday morning and confirmed that despite having BOTC status if she entered the United Kingdom on a visitor's visa, she would still breach their immigration laws despite being legally eligible to obtain permission to work.
Ironically, the announcement was made about her appointment in early March 2021. However, she did not leave the jurisdiction until months later, which would have given her ample time to apply for the relevant documentation.
Her return to Cayman appears to be a combination of vacation time and attending official functions, but officially, she remains working. She has attended several conferences, including the Civil Service Team Awards, and enjoyed time brunching with friends and colleagues. Her last official function in the United Kingdom was at a Service of Thanksgiving for His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at West Minister Abbey on March 29.
Despite this, official sources have indicated that Ebanks-Garcia is on the UK diplomatic list and therefore does not require any further authorization. That list appears to have an attached caveat – just because you're on the list does not mean that you enjoy all the rights and privileges of a diplomat, so what does it mean exactly? Is there absolutely no paperwork required to confirm or convey any rights? That, indeed, does not sound logical at all.
Now, upon careful review of the list provided, which includes a list of diplomats, agents general, honorary consuls etc. she appears on page 136 on a page titled Representatives of British Overseas Territories. To our logical eyes, this does not make her a diplomat at all. She's just on an extensive list that includes a list of OT reps. In fact, on that page, it plainly states that:
“This list is provided for information only. Some of the persons listed below may have an entitlement to certain Privileges & Immunities.”
If she were a diplomat it would appear there would be no reason to have to return to the Cayman Islands in order to obtain a UK passport. Let's be honest; diplomats enjoy certain privileges. Diplomats would be able to take advantage of their diplomatic status and have passports expedited.
Even diplomats have specific documentation to be completed to confer or acknowledge their status. According to the Home Office website, “exempt vignette” can be applied for if you do not usually need a visa to work in the UK because you’re exempt from immigration control. This makes the travel process smoother. But even a diplomatic passport may not be enough and more documentation may be required.
We are doubtful that being on a list is sufficient to argue diplomatic status. Diplomatic staff cannot be nationals of the UK, hold permanent UK residency, or dual UK-Commonwealth nationals.
The State Immunity (Overseas Territories) Order 1979, which came into operation on May 2, 1979, included Cayman in Schedule 2 in the following manner – “Consular Relations and Diplomatic and Privileges Law (Revised in the case of the Cayman Islands.” But still, it is logical that some positive action would need to be taken for Dr. Ebanks-Garcia to enjoy being recognized as a diplomat.
CIG has indicated they are seeking a legal opinion on this entire situation.
What we do know is that if the government dropped the ball in the instance of Dr. Ebanks-Garcia it's not the first time. You may not know that Chris Dugan, who left to set up the Cayman Islands Government office in Washington, DC as the CI Representative to North America, is also in that country with the relevant work visa. He is there as a visitor with his wife until that can be sorted.
Does this mean that Duggan is not being paid while working in the United States? Is the Washington office closed? He has already resigned from his previous job in the Cayman Islands, so what umbrella is he being paid under? He has been stationed in that post since June 2021.
How exactly does this happen, possibly not once but twice? Who, if anyone, will be held responsible for this?
What if Dr. Ebanks-Garcia does not have the correct documents?
The senior civil servant, former TV host at Cayman 27, and family therapist does not hold a Cayman or British Overseas Territory passport. Sources indicate that she entered the United Kingdom with her Canadian passport on a visitor visa and has worked in a public role since her appointment. In fact, Ebanks-Garcia has attended senior-level events since her appointment including one with the Speaker of the UK House of Commons and Cayman's Speaker of the House, McKeeva Bush, for the laying of wreaths in September.
In the UK, under the prevention of illegal working legislation, it is unlawful for an employer to hire someone if they do not have the right to work in the UK or if they are in breach of the terms of their stay by working. Employers carry the brunt of the legal responsibility to prevent illegal working in the UK by ensuring that your employees have the right to work here. The illegal working provisions of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 (‘the Act’) came into force on 29 February 2008.
That office should have carried out the necessary checks to verify her employment eligibility status within that jurisdiction by carrying out a manual right to works check. This would have included obtaining original versions of her documentation including her passport, checking its validity and keeping a clear copy on file. A breach of this law carries both civil penalties and possible criminal prosecution. The Home Office can impose a fine of £20,000 for an illegal worker being employed for any amount of time.
Where an employer knew or has reasonable cause to believe an individual does not have the right to work and employ them anyway, they also risk criminal prosecution punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years and an unlimited fine.
Ebanks-Garcia was appointed to the position in early May 2021 ahead of the 2021 general elections, which saw the previous UK overseas office representative, Andre Ebanks, declare his candidacy for West Bay South. Prior to her appointment, Ebanks-Garcia was the director of Travel Cayman which was responsible for the travel management, travel support, health screening and monitoring and compliance requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What's the big deal?
On the one hand, this appears to be easy enough to fix in her case. The mere fact that it was missed undermines the confidence that we would all have in senior members of the civil service. This is rudimentary, my dear Watson … so basic that a high school leaver would know to have these things in order prior to taking up an overseas post.
Ironically the UK office at 34 Dover Street in Mayfair, London, offers consular and passport services that deal with visa applications etc.
This issue would now span across two governments and several Chief Officers and remain uncorrected or unclarified? CIG has indicated they would be seeking a legal opinion. That alone speaks to the fact that they are unclear about what the position is? We have been sending to that office for 40 years now. Why has this only become a question now that requires a legal opinion? Shouldn't we know with certainty what is required for Caymanians in that office?
By extension, you then wonder, if they cannot get essential things right should we be seriously concerned about the high-level implementation of strategic policies and objectives?
Civil service performance matters at all levels, and it's high time we hold them all accountable. Let's stop looking for and accepting the most obscure types of excuses for when they drop the ball.
Someone once remarked that 1/3 of the civil service is performing optimally, 1/3 is mediocre and 1/3 should not be employed. Pretending that 3/4 are performing optimally will not serve the people of the Cayman Islands well. It's high time we raised the bar, kept it high, and weed out those who need to go!
The consequences of their actions, ineptitude, and lack of any real consequences when they fail reflects poorly on all of us! It's time to stop rewarding poor performance with promotions, lateral moves, or even continuing to keep one's job.
Do you have a question for Sandy or the CMR team? Send it in to us via email or WhatsApp.