On Thursday, April 29th 2021, the Minister of Justice published, in the National Gazette (‘Landscourant’), a Ministerial Decree that constitutes a number of enhancements to the Guidelines of 2012 (‘Richtlijnen 2012’) pertaining to the application of the National Ordinance on Admittance and Expulsion (‘Landsverordening toelating en uitzetting / Ltu’). The aim of this adaptation of the Immigration Policy is to emphasize and give further content to the policy point of departure that St. Maarten, being a small and fragile economy, must apply a restrictive Immigration Policy.
Though it is common knowledge that immigration policy in particular is a fluid issue that needs to be adapted to the ever-changing socio-economic factors of society, the Immigration Policy as reflected in the Guidelines of 2012 had not been updated by previous Justice Ministers in the past nine years. The devastating effects of Hurricane Irma in September of 2017 on St. Maarten’s economy as well as the even more devastating effects of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic on St. Maarten’s economy were the main factors that led this Justice Minister to subject our Immigration Policy to a thorough review.
The ultimate goal of this Minister is to completely overhaul the Guidelines of 2012 and, if necessary, also the underlying laws, particularly the Ltu. Given the fact however that aforementioned exercise entails a highly time-consuming process, versus the urgent need to address particularly some of the major loopholes that at present adversely affect the execution of St. Maarten’s intended restrictive Immigration Policy, the Minister has chosen for an interim solution whereby a number of these loopholes are now being plugged via the Ministerial Decree in question, pending the integral rewriting of the Guidelines and possibly the Ltu.
The Ministerial Decree, which consists of a mere 12 articles with Elucidation, is concise in nature. The major policy issues now being corrected via this Ministerial Decree are the following:
o The cohabitation agreement will no longer serve as a basis for obtaining residency; only marriage will serve as such.
o The minimum income requirement for a non-national filing for residency for his/her non-national spouse has been raised from ANG 2.000,= to the more realistic amount of ANG 3.000,= gross income per month. Nationals filing for their non-national spouse will now have to show income equal to the legal minimum wage (ANG 1.530,50 gross per month).
o Persons submitting a first-time application for a residency permit based on a director’s license issued by the Ministry of TEATT will have to show an initial capital of ANG 36.000,=, which would guarantee that the company in question can pay that person’s salary for at least one year.
o Residency permits will be granted in principle for one year at a time, therefore not for multiple years at once, whereas the Minister has the authority to exceed the one-year term on a case-by-case basis.
o Parents filing for their children have to show proof that their child is attending a school on the Dutch side of the island.
o A first-time request for a residency permit can be turned down if it is established that the person in question has been residing illegally on the island for any length of time prior to the submittal of their application, regardless of the fact that that person may have left the island days or weeks before submitting their application in order to comply with the off-island requirement.
o Notifications of any nature pertaining to the processing of applications for residency permit will be executed in writing, primarily by way of e-mail communications; as such all applicants from now on must provide one or more e-mail addresses where they can be reached, as a requisite for their application to be processed.
o Only applications submitted after the day that this new policy goes into effect (April 29, 2021) will be affected by this new policy.
As said, the Ministerial Decree was published in the National Gazette; it will also be accessible on the St. Maarten Government’s website. The general public is urged to also take note of the Elucidation to the Ministerial Decree, which gives a detailed explanation of the reason for each individual policy amendment.
Finally, it is important to note that the now amended Immigration Policy was prepared in close consultation with the full Management Team of the Immigration Department and their legal experts. The Ministerial Decree was further vetted by the Department of Legal Affairs and Legislation of Country St. Maarten. And last but not least, both the Governing Coalition and the Parliament of St. Maarten as a whole were afforded ample opportunity to give their input into what today is the final version of the updated Immigration Policy. The conclusion therefore is that the now updated Immigration Policy has wide support on all relevant levels.