SATURDAY, 07 JULY 2012
~ May become effective August 1 ~
BELAIR–Several aspects of the country’s admissions and expulsion policy LTU have been revised. These include a halving of the length of time needed to acquire permanent residence, the acceptance once again of “concubine contracts” and the placing of greater importance on “family life.” The changes are set tentatively to become effective August 1.
Justice Minister Roland Duncan outlined the policy changes in a session for his ministry and representatives of other government departments in Belair Community Centre on Friday.
Staffers expressed their need for training sessions to better grasp the new guidelines and, according to Immigration and Naturalisation Department Head Udo Aron, such sessions will be organised. Under the new policy, a foreigner can apply for permanent residence after five years – a change from the present 10-year period. Duncan called the current situation a “misnomer,” because it takes five consecutive years of legal residence permits to become eligible to apply for Dutch nationality.
While the regulations to obtain permanent residence have been shortened, a yearly fee will be introduced for holders of temporary and permanent residence permits. The fees have not yet been established, so no figure was given at the session.
The minister hopes to have the ordinance detailing the residence permit fees and several other fees approved by Parliament by year’s end. This will bring to an end the “freeness of service” the justice ministry provides to the community.
The new regulations “shift the focus” to attracting people with skills the country needs or those who can assist with growth.
A special identification card for foreigners will be introduced. This will help with better identification and eliminate the need for foreigners residing here always to carry their residence documents. Funds are already in place for the issuance of the cards.
Some 20 per cent of all types of residence applications are first-time ones; the remainder are renewals. Aron said the first quarter of this year hadn’t seen a big influx of people compared to 2011.
The majority of applications are for “family unification” and the second largest batch are for labour, Aron added.
By law, the ministry has four months in which to process an application for residence or give an answer to the applicant. In the first quarter, most of the applications were handled in two months.
A new “investor’s residence permit” will be introduced. This will target people making an investment of NAf. 900,000/US $500,000 in property or other assets, but not intending to work in the country. This is different from the residence permit tied to business owners/directors.
The United States has a similar policy. Investors putting the same amount as outlined in the new policy are entitled to a “green card” in three years and citizenship in five years. Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba also have a similar system, while St. Kitts and Nevis offers investors citizenship.
A “student residence permit” also will be introduced to make the process less complicated for tertiary institutions University of St. Martin (USM) and American University of the Caribbean (AUC) to attract students.
Concerning the Dutch/US Friendship Treaty, Duncan said US citizens could not be treated the same as other foreigners. Their applications will be checked to ensure they comply with the protocol attached to the treaty that grants US citizens the same rights as European Dutch citizens. However, the application of the treaty will lead to a call for “reciprocity” from the US for St. Maarten people who want to live in the US.
Forming a family should be stronger grounds for residence than just money, Duncan said, expressing his disagreement with the current policy that requires foreigners to have a certain income to be able to unite with their family or to register an additional child.
The minimum income per month has been set at NAf. 2,000 for people applying for family unification. Other aspects of the living arrangements will be checked by the Immigration and Naturalisation Department (IND).
He gave an example of the current policy: not granting s residence permit to a child born here if a family grows, but their income determines that a permit cannot be given. He said parents would rather eat less than see their children starve.
Children born here of foreign parents will become eligible for permanent residence at age 16, while those not born here but who were raised here for at least five years will be eligible at age 18. This approach will help to stem the “brain drain” from the country.
“We are not going to train and educate people … then at the end chase them,” Duncan said.
IND will have to make all the necessary checks to ensure that a family life exists in all cases, that there is integration (ties to the country) and to see whether investments have been made here.
The Justice Ministry will again accept the so-called concubine or partnership contract. This was not acknowledged for several years, because of abuse of the system. Duncan said he was aware that the partnership agreement would open a “Pandora’s Box” about acceptance of same-sex couples, but at present it applied to a contract between a man and a woman.
“We have people living together and it is not government’s duty to force people to get married to legalise their status.”
In the new policy, the contract will have to be signed and registered with government. IND will have the task of going to check whether the couple indeed are living together and if not, “to find them, lock them out and kick them out.”
The ministry currently has a case of men seeking to register as partners. A decision still has to be rendered in the case.
The practice of keeping undocumented people locked up for a lengthy period of time will be halted. A person can be detained for only three days (three times 24 hours); an extension of that time can be based only on specific grounds.
A different process will be followed for repatriation by IND than the current one, in which detainees are passed on to the police and then repatriated. This will become the responsibility of the Border Patrol (Immigration team), which is to be separated from the police.
Tourist stays for people resident in the Dutch Kingdom are six months with the possibility of an extension for another six months.
Citizens of the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have the possibility to stay for three months with an extension of another three months.
All changes to the admission and regulation policy were discussed in the Council of Ministers. Duncan said his colleague ministers had urged him to move ahead with the changes.
St. Maarten – The majority of requests for residence permits in 2011 were linked to family unification and to the acquisition of employment permits. This is revealed by figures that Head of the Immigration and Naturalization Department Udo Aron presented recently. The third most stated reason is requests for permanent residence.
“Roughly 20 percent of all applications in 2011 were new requests and just under 80 percent is renewals. This shows that there is a stable influx. Most of the requests are for family reunification, followed by requests linked to a person’s employment,” Aron said.
According to Aron’s figures 2, 646 people applied for a permit for a family member in the year 2011. That’s 32 percent of all applications. In the first quarter of 2012 there were already 723 applications for family reunification.
Some 2, 243 people applied for residence permits in 2012 as part of the process to obtain a work permit. They constitute 27 percent of the total applicants for that entire year. In the first quarter of 2012 there have already been 401 requests linked to applications for employment permits.
Some 1, 151 people applied for permanent residence in 2011. They are 14 percent of all applications submitted. By the end of the first quarter of 2012 some 299 applications for permanent residence had been submitted.
The remaining categories of requests do not come above the figure of 800. The closest category is applications for short stays (797), requests for a director’s license (536) and extension after five years of employment (535). In the first quarter of 2012 the figures show 178 applications for short stays, 107 applications for director’s licenses and 153 requests for after five years of employment.
Some 137 foreign pensioners filed for permits to reside here, 110 people filed requests related to naturalization and 105 people used other unspecified services. The figures in these categories for the first quarter of 2012 are 41 for pensioners who wish to reside here, 208 requests for naturalization and 33 requests for other unspecified services.
The absolute total number of requests in 2011 was 8, 260 and the absolute total number of requests in the first quarter of 2012 was 2, 143.
Aron’s figures also show that the vast majority of requests that the Department of Immigration and Naturalization got in 2011 was for renewals of existing permits (5, 911). The second largest category was first requests (1,798). The department also handled 438 requests for application of the law on guardianship and 113 requests for changes in a person’s permit.
Improved processing time
The Immigration and Naturalization Department is also getting better at how fast it processes requests. By the end of the first quarter of 2012 it had handled 69.5 percent of submitted requests within two months. It has also handled 22.8 percent of the requests within one month. The figures for applications submitted in the fourth quarter of 2011 are less rosy. Only 9.6 percent of those applications were handled within a month, 17 percent were handled within two months, 23. 5 percent was handled in three months and 31.3 percent were finalized four months after they were submitted. There was no data in Aron’s recent report on the status of the remaining 18.6 percent of applications submitted in the last quarter of 2011.