PHILIPSBURG--Justice Minister Anna Richardson said on Wednesday that immigration regulations will be strictly enforced in the coming “weeks and months.” She urges unauthorised immigrants to voluntarily leave the country or face deportation.
“Persons who currently reside in St. Maarten without the legal documentation are advised to take this as a warning and should start making the necessary provisions to voluntarily leave the country or run the risk of getting detained and deported to their country of origin,” said Richardson.
The strict enforcement measures will be based on the National Ordinance on Admissions and Expulsions, in Dutch “Landsverordening Toelating en Uitzetting”. Richardson said the National Ordinance allows residence permits to be revoked for those who no longer meet the conditions under which the permit was granted, as well as to revoke permits for those who live abroad.
She said Immigration and Border Protection Services (IBPS) will be collaborating with the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA and government’s Department of Civil Registry to ensure that “persons who are in possession of work and residence permits still meet the conditions under which they were acquired.”
Richardson said the first step would be the removal of persons who overstayed tourist visas. This will be done “in order to better handle our internal affairs.”
Richardson has also indefinitely suspended first-time applications for residence permits, except for those in “critical positions.” These persons will undergo “strict scrutiny before being granted a residence permit.” Moreover, she has indefinitely suspended extensions of non-immigrant stays, visas for recreational purposes, and the process of having a guarantor.
In the coming weeks, the Justice Ministry will be implementing a “restrictive immigration policy.”
“The intention of the restrictive policy is to make St. Maarten less vulnerable for illegal immigration. While persons enter the country via legal ports of entry, the common practice of overstaying one’s tourist visit or visa often translates into illegal immigration. This practice has negatively impacted our economic, social and justice systems, hence the aggressive approach in addressing this situation,” said Richardson.
She said controls would be intensified “on land and sea as multidisciplinary teams consisting of local law-enforcement agencies and other various ministries will be initiated.”
During Wednesday’s live virtual Council of Ministers press briefing, reporters asked Richardson how persons would be affected by the controls. “We are not inhumane in our handling of matters; we are going to work within the framework of the law,” she said.
Richardson also said she plans to meet with French-side authorities to “establish a better working relationship and explore the possibilities of strengthening border controls as a collective body.”
“We do have a large pool of persons on the island who remain undocumented and who have remained unemployed for quite some time. I speak directly to those individuals, as well as those who are here on the island and who have not been able to secure employment for years, whether by choice or by circumstances. These are the individuals we are asking, first and foremost, to consider going back to their place of origin where life can possibly be easier for them.
“When it comes to individuals who have lost their employment due to COVID-19 or the after the hurricanes [Irma and Maria in 2017 – Ed.], of course discussions are going to be had with everyone [about] their circumstances.
“We know St. Maarten already had a situation of employment being scarce for many. So, [with] the fact that businesses have closed, the situation is only going to worsen. As such, we are asking you to understand the circumstances that we are under. We are not trying to make life difficult for anyone; we all love St. Maarten, but we need an opportunity where everyone can give St. Maarten a chance to get back on her feet,” said Richardson.