SHTA and Duncan strive for healthy, workable immigration policy

POSTED: 09/2/11 11:36 AM

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Hospitality and trade association SHTA met with Justice Minister Duncan yesterday to discuss the Brooks Tower Accord process and Duncan’s plans to achieve a non-bureaucratic process to legalize staff.
SHTA president Emil Lee opened the meeting by clarifying the SHTA’s position about harboring businesses that don’t abide by the law. Lee said that the SHTA’s perspective has always been to promote good business practices. He referred to SHTA’s mission statement which is to bring quality to all aspects of life on St. Maarten by promoting sustainable economic development for its members in cooperation with the social partners and the creation of a fair competitive marketplace. Lee further stated that in general our members come together because they are looking to create a fair and transparent level playing field vs. businesses that have adopted a business model based on shady business practices.
SHTA further mentioned that bogus employers should be prosecuted for trying to defraud the system. Duncan agreed and clarified that he was referring to the actual employers who have not signed for these applicants and asked SHTA to assist by encouraging its members and the entire business community- the real employers of these rejected applicants- to come in and sign for these persons. In the interest of reducing illegal employment, the ministry is looking into a method to give employers from BTA process an opportunity to come forward and legalize their staff without fear of prosecution.
The Minister also said that by September 15 he should begin issuing permits to those that have been accepted through the Brook Towers Accord process and that the validity period which was supposed to end November of this year has been moved to November 2012. After that time, an extension will be granted for 3 years after which permit holders will receive permanent residence, pending good behavior.
SHTA members that are uncertain of the status of their employees’ applications can contact the SHTA @ info@shta.com for more information.
The Minister said that processing fees were collected by the Labor Office and it is up to that Ministry to decide if it will issue refunds to the rejected applicants.
Also discussed were the plans for stricter controls at the border. Minister Duncan confirmed that the Immigration system at PJIAE will be linked to the Immigration department to be able to better monitor the movement of passengers in and out of this island. He is also working on revising the immigration policies, which he stated are outdated and hopes to have the immigration system revamped by mid 2012.
Regarding the permitting process, which the SHTA reiterated is strenuous, lengthy and cumbersome; Minister Duncan said that this was being revised. The plans are to synchronize work and residence permits- so, a one stop shop where both permits can be requested- and also to update the application requirements.
The minister is also looking into changing the validity period of permits to 3 years with an annual renewal fee. If the fee is not paid, the permit will no longer be valid. This, along with online application and tracking possibilities in the future, is part of his vision to make the department more efficient, which is in line with SHTA’s perspective of reducing red tape and improving transparency.

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