PHILIPSBURG--With one week left, most Brooks Tower Accord (BTA) permit-holders have applied for extensions in the past eight weeks, head coordinator Tiara Haselhoef reported Wednesday.
Central Government workers are awaiting the last 700 of more than 4,000 persons who are now legal residents thanks to the BTA.
BTA recipients have until next week Thursday, September 30, to apply at the Salvation Army for a three-year extension to remain in St. Maarten. The Central Government plans to end its work here officially on Friday, October 8, leaving the first government of Country St. Maarten to decide on the procedure for anyone who hasn't applied already.
"It is better that they come now and apply before September 30," Haselhoef said. More than 3,300 persons have applied for papers to stay, accounting for 82.3 per cent of permit-holders.
All BTA permits become invalid on November 3. Anyone who hasn't applied for and received the extension, or who no longer complies with the basic requirements of valid health insurance and ID, can be repatriated.
Central Government workers have been processing applications at the Salvation Army nearly every weekday since Monday, August 2. The Justice Ministry originally had planned to stop last week Saturday, September 18, but citing slow applications early on, decided instead to extend the application period until the end of the month. Less than 25 per cent of BTA permit-holders had applied when the decision was made.
Workers at the police station prepare the permits daily. Only 671 persons have collected theirs, while another 700 remain for collection. Haselhoef said close to 1,000 permits remained unsigned at the Lt. Governor's office.
Permit-holders can visit the Post Office or the Immigration and Naturalisation Department building to determine whether their permits are ready.
The Brooks Tower Accord was launched in 2009 in the hopes of legalising most undocumented residents – primarily the ones who have been here longest. Antillean Justice Minister Magali Jacoba praised the project later as bringing thousands "out of the darkness" of illegality.
However, critics nearly sank BTA, warning undocumented persons that it was merely a trap to register and then get rid of them. Only persons who didn't qualify for either Category I (those who arrived before 2002) or Category II (those who arrived between 2002 and 2005) were repatriated.
Minister Jacoba announced her planned extension in July, offering a less stringent way to bring the thousands of BTA recipients into the regular system in phases. She hoped to make them citizens, with permanent residence, after they had proved they could stay legal residents for the three years. Some applicants, students in particular, only received one-year extensions.
St. Maarten's first Council of Ministers will have to decide whether to uphold the minister's policy in 2013.
Jacoba is scheduled to visit St. Maarten next week, probably for the last time as a Central Government minister, for talks about the island taking over BTA.