Belair:--- Minister of Justice Roland Duncan gave civil servants including immigration officers an outline of some of the changes he made to the LTU policy (admittance and expulsion policy).The information session was held at the Belair community center Friday afternoon. However, the Minister still has to get feedback from the Council of Ministers (NA/DP/IND) and he also has to take some of the new laws to parliament. The changes to the policy will take effect on August 1st 2012, while the new policies that are added to the LTU will go into effect as of January 1 2013.
Duncan said the police department has no authority over immigration. In fact, the two entities are separate based on the law, the only thing in common is that the two entities, immigration and police have one Korps Chef (Chief of Police), Minister Duncan told the civil servants this as he read the law out to them.
The Minister of Justice said upon revision of the law he has decided to change that and make the immigration department separate from the police.
Immigration matters will be handled strictly by those in charge at the IND building located on A.T. Illidge Road. "IND will have its own immigration vehicles and patrols that will conduct immigration controls and arrest those that are residing illegally on the island and deport them. What is happening right now is that illegal immigrants that are held by the police are treated in an inhumane fashion and that has to stop. The other day, I lost a court case because someone that was residing illegally on the island was kept in the police holding cells for 30 days while another young man tried to take his own life because he spent three months behind bars to be deported. This is inhumane treatment and if it means that the justice department would have to endure the expenses to repatriate immigrants that are caught on the island (those that do not have relatives on the island) then it would be cheaper than to keep them behind bars for months." Duncan said he already does not have enough prison cells and it is expensive to feed persons that are in police custody. He said purchasing tickets for people is something that has to be weighed compared to the cost of holding them behind bars since he must feed these people and pay prison guards.
The Minister of Justice also told civil servants that he has re-introduced the concubine contracts because there are people living together that have children that were born on the island and cannot get legalized. The Minister said that persons that have concubine contracts will be investigated by IND workers and if it is proven that these persons are in fact living together then the residence permits will be granted. However, those that are caught exploiting the law would have their permits retracted. The Minister readily agreed that he might be opening a "Pandora's box" but he is of the opinion that government cannot tell people how to live neither force them to marry. He went as far as saying that if two men are living together they too can have a permit even though he is not promoting same sex marriage.
Duncan said special focus will be placed on the "family life" as there is a special clause in law that prohibits families from getting permits for their children based on their income. This has been reviewed and persons that are making the minimum wage will be able to obtain a permit for their children that are born on St. Maarten. Children that were born on St. Maarten and attended school on the island for at least five years will also be granted a permit.
The Justice Minister also explained that his Ministry added a new type of residency permit to the list. He said the IND will also be issuing "investment" permits specifically to persons who invested $500,000.00 (NAF. 900.000.00) and over to purchase a home on the island. These persons will be granted a one year permit for their entire family (first degree) and they would have to pay Naf. 50,000.00 into the crime fund each time they want to renew their permits. "Investors and foreign homeowners he said will be given special treatment, this raised eyebrows among the civil servants.
When the Minister released that information several questions were posed by Lucy Gibbs of the Economic Affairs Department and the Head of Island Labor Peggy Ann Dros. Gibbs said she would like to know if the other Ministries considered the impact this would have on the education, health, and infrastructure. Gibbs told the Minister that investors already have the Director's license which allows them to have both residency and working permits therefore she wants to know if the investment permits would replace the directors permits. Minister Duncan readily agreed that he did not do the research on this but felt that the former Council of Ministers saw his plans and they liked it. Therefore, he is of the opinion that he is on the right track. He also said that persons that are issued these permits must have adequate health insurances.
Another major change to the LTU is that anyone that has been residing over five years on the island legally will get their permanent residency permit since those persons are eligible for a Dutch passport after five years. Duncan said that persons holding a permanent residency permit also have to pay a fee but he did not say how those persons would have to make the annual payments. The Minister also announced that his Ministry will be charging for the services they provide but no figures have been released on Friday. Applicants have to pay for their working and residency permits, police clearance, and re-entry permits. There will be a fee for administrative purposes the Minister said but he will not release the figures because he did not get a feedback from the Council of Ministers.
Another new residency permit that has been added to the list is the student permit which would allow foreign students to come to St. Maarten and study at USM, CIA, or the AUC. Persons that are granted the student residency will not be allowed to join the workforce. Minister Duncan also annouced that identification cards will be processed at the IND Building on A.T. Illidge road. He made clear that ID cards granted to immigrants will be different from the one granted to Dutch nationals.
As for immigrants, the Minister said more focus will be placed on skilled workers rather than the unskilled, St. Maarten he said needs to attract skilled workers here so they could contribute to the development of the island.
Immigration officers that attended the information session asked for a copy of the policy so they can review and acquaint themselves with the new regulations. Some of them said that they are of the opinion that the Minister of Justice should provide courses on the execution of his new policy. "We need courses so that we are all on the same page and do not interpret the law in our own way."