(CNS): Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Executive Assistant Director Todd Owen signed a deal at the government building in George Town yesterday to establish a customs and immigration fast track system at Miami airport for US visitors coming to Cayman. The aim is to enable air passengers to clear the Cayman Islands official entrance process before take off, so that when they land at Owen Roberts International Airport they can quickly pass through to baggage claim.

The new process, which is the first of its kind, is in the pilot phase. It will initially be a Sunday only service, one of the busiest days, for just Cayman Airways passengers, but if all goes well, it will be expanded to Saturdays and possibly to American Airlines.

Speaking at a press conference after the officials signed the memorandum of understanding to pave the way for the fast-track airport clearance, Premier Alden McLaughlin said it had been on the cards for some time and a policy of the previous administration. He explained that some technical issues as well as the hurricanes during this past season had delayed the implementation but he was pleased it was now on track. He said the goal was to enhance intelligence cooperation while improving the experience of passengers arriving at ORIA.

The process involved negotiations with US Customs and Border Protection, coordinated by the governor’s office and the heads of customs and immigration. A senior US delegation led by Owen visited Cayman to sign the deal yesterday, bringing the new arrangement into effect. While they are here, the US officials will also discuss wider border security issues with customs, immigration and police leadership teams.

McLaughlin welcomed Owen and his team from CBP and explained that this is the first time that the US has entered into such an arrangement with another country and the first time that local customs and immigration officers will be deployed overseas in such a role.

“It will introduce a new fast track procedure at the airport and help to improve customer experience at peak weekend times,” McLaughlin said. “Our new border control procedures will also be more effective and more welcoming to all who pass through the airport. The work on the initiatives being announced today is a good example of a multi-agency approach within the civil service and our friends in the UK and the USA. This improved cooperation is also part of this government’s overall plans to improve border protection.”

The new arrangement will see Cayman immigration and customs officers working in Miami to pre-clear visitors from March. Officials are also working to identify and assess other new procedures to improve passenger flows and law enforcement.

Wesley Howell, the chief officer in the immigration ministry, said that this would be a low cost operation with no new jobs created, as officers will be flown out on non-revenue seats on Cayman Airways’ first Sunday flight and then back home on the last. He noted that it was also an opportunity for customs officers to ensure that US passengers leave their guns behind, after yet another American visitor to Cayman was arrested at the weekend with a loaded firearm in his luggage at ORIA.

The premier explained that there will be no reciprocal arrangement for Caymanian passport holders visiting the US due to the low number of travellers and the high cost of hosting US security and border control at ORIA. But Owen told the press that Miami is using more and more secure and safe technology that is helping to speed up border clearance for legitimate travellers. He said that the decision to allow Cayman officials to work at Miami airport and enter into the first arrangement of this kind was down to a very long partnership between Cayman authorities and the US border control.

The governor’s office has stated that an experienced manager from UK’s Border Force agency will be seconded to the Cayman Islands shortly to advise on work to transform elements of immigration and customs into a new Cayman Islands Border Protection Service. That officer will also lead on measures to introduce further intelligence-led and risk-based procedures to modernise the way that border control is carried out, following the premier’s policy announcement about the formation of the Border Protection Service in the Legislative Assembly.

Legislation is being introduced that will enable Cayman to also join the CARICOM Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) before the end of the year. This will improve intelligence flows with Cayman’s partners to identify potential security threats and allow border control officers to proactively tackle those risks.

“The new arrangement with CBP and the deployment of an experienced UK Border Force adviser marks the start of a new era of modern intelligence-led border control that will provide greater security to the Cayman Islands, ” said Matthew Forbes, Head of the Governor’s Office. “This is part of a wider programme of work to modernise our border controls, which will see a renewed focus on the prevention of firearms and drug smuggling.”

Forbes said it all amounted to added protection for the increasing external threats that Cayman faces.

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