“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Eric Thomas, author of “Secret to Success”.
The image in this picture very much portrays the situation that has developed over the years between illegal immigrants and local immigration authorities on the friendly island of St. Maarten. The gazelle, portrayed as the immigrant, takes all risks and breaks new territory in order to find resources for survival; the lion must outrun the gazelle for its own survival.
Labour and Immigration Laws are an ongoing concern on government’s plate. Modern views on economy and labour management, from a global perspective, give rise to arguments that illegal immigrants do not leave a harmful effect on a country’s labour market; how does this theory apply including the many inherent issues affecting the topic on labour and immigration for St. Maarten?
Synopsis and Facts
The population growth statistics alone for Dutch St. Maarten do not tell all; the population of “legal immigrants” have shown consistent growth from ±30,000 to±40,000 only within the last ten years. The rate of the labour force however has remained little changed within approximately this same time frame only moving by as much as half a percent which can be explained due to the steady increase in the total population that also increases the labour force at the same rate. The CBS Labour Report survey for 2009 also shows a growing trend of the employed population; growth however occurred at a less steady pace since 2007.
The total labour force comprises 60% of the population however these figures only report the portion of the population that is legally registered in the system.
Another noteworthy fact, using figures from the Department of Economics, is that the island’s population comprises of 30% of those that are born on the island; projecting this 30% onto the total labour force of legal immigrants, gives us an 42% rate of labour supply from other islands or nationalities. Between the years 2007 to 2009, the CBS reported also that while unemployment decreased among other nationalities on the island, this was not the case with those having been born on the island. Unemployment among those 25 to 44 years of age also accounts for half of the total unemployed population of approximately 3000 persons.
When we look at the concentrations of non-Dutch nationalities residing on the island, the highest concentrations are the Dominican Republic (10%), Haiti (± 8%), Jamaica (± 7%), Guyana (± 5%), Dominica (± 4%) and although both French and Dutch St. Maarten has been considered one soil, there has been an increase in the number of immigrants passing through French St. Maarten which has increased from 3% to 6% since 2001. These figures say very little to present an impression of the overall picture of those who enter the country and do not directly acquire legal status right away or if any at all, however, one Dutch national by birth as a social worker in education who has been living on the island for more than 35 years had this to say:
“I have dealt with a lot of social cases in schools that are of Guyanese, Dominican and Dominican Republican origin and in particular I have seen more of an increase among those from the Dominican Republic in the early 2000’s than in the 90’s; they wind up living below social standards to the extent that the schools would wind up providing them with bread and sometimes uniforms because their parents cannot afford these necessities; it affects them psychologically and emotionally. One of the things that government tried to implement was a breakfast program at secondary schools which became less of a priority after the October 2010 country status elections; and additionally because government lacks the resources, certain projects such as this one, takes a back burner. Personally, I feel like I have become a minority and more and more alienated; noise pollution has increased and you hear more foreign languages on the streets.”
Other residents living on the island for twenty years or more, opinionated similar sentiments; one senior citizen, originally from St. Kitts with Dutch citizenship, who has lived on the island for over 25 years stated that in the 80’s and early 90’s people coming to St. Maarten were from the nearby islands; with the current influx of other nationalities and the increase in crime, there is no longer that “neighbourly trust” that existed back then. Another resident Dutch citizen, originally from Suriname that has been living on the island for 27 years stated, “Change started in ’96 – ’97 when the immigration was not doing regular checks. The increase in crime and traffic got worse after the year 2000.”
According to statistics, the number of crimes reported increased by 50% within a time span of three years from 2003 to 2006.
How do these figures and facts summarize the overall picture regarding the island’s social standing and labour? And what really happens when illegal immigrants or migrants enter our borders?
Figures of the number of illegal immigrants to the country are lacking in order to give an overall picture of the real situation. The report Criminaliteitsbeeldanalyse 2011 (crime analysis report), however, estimated illegal immigrants at 15,000; the writers of this forum estimated the number of illegal immigrants within a similar statistical proximity of 18,000. According to one government administrator, figures are believed to range near 20,000.
What some of the facts represent, is a structural problem of the labour market that comes along with an influx of immigrants to a country. Objective reasoning argues that immigrant workers settle for fewer wages decreasing the wage value of the overall job market; the situation presented on St. Maarten is likewise, where the majority of immigrant workers stem from the countries mentioned earlier, where their domestic currency is less in comparison to the dollar or even the guilder therefore, it is less costly to hire an immigrant worker over a Dutch national or long time naturalized Dutch citizen. Considering the high cost of living and rising inflation on the island these immigrants end up living in economically sub-standard conditions and often by choice in order to support their family and lifelong goals back in their home country. Unemployment among Dutch nationals is partially owing to this reasoning.
Of course, other labour market factors come into play; Mr. Boasman, head of the Department for Social and Labour Welfare Policy, argues that on the other end of the spectrum there is often a mismatch of skilled workers to perform certain required tasks; businesses would then invest in foreign labour of those that are skilled. Even with local skilled labour, employers are keen to hire foreign labour that has the experience qualifying further arguments for structural unemployment which would give answers to the high rate of unemployment of those between the ages of 25 to 44 with a college or university degree.
Mr. Boasman, in his subjective opinion expressed that immigrants do not bring harm to the economy; they work hard at lower wages and contribute to the economy by paying their taxes and sending wealth back to their own families and for the greater good of their home country. In his opinion, these workers return home after they have achieved their goals.
The (ILO) right of the immigrant worker and unreported incidents
The question on what happens to illegal immigrants after they enter our borders is really a reflective question on those who never actually receive legal status but wind up working in the system.
Mr. Boasman concedes to the fact that businesses have become more cautious since 2002 by going through the legal system to file for proper legal status of immigrant workers but when permits are denied, these employees attain “illegal status” and would then seek employment elsewhere as illegal workers. Occurrences like these add to the structural problems of labour management and causes many scenarios of “hidden employment” where businesses defraud the system of payroll taxes and social security payments.
On this issue Boasman stated that the existence of this problem lies with the lack of good governance in implementing the laws.
This situation has created a type of “devil’s advocate status quo” in which businesses that are caught with illegal labour wind up paying large fines and illegal immigrants at times wind up working in “unfair labour conditions” because they feel threatened and therefore do not report offenses that happen in the workplace; the immigrant worker is unknowingly defrauded of his or her rights.
The problem here, is the unawareness in the general work sphere on the island when it comes to the right of the immigrant worker regarding government security in the event of sickness or injury and the lack of inclusion in these laws in local policies.
Increase in crime
Theoretically and empirically, with an unmanaged increase in any population, the rate of crime will also increase and as the figures have shown, St. Maarten has been no exception. In addition, structural unemployment also affects the youth as heralded in many research and opinion papers and also local island newspapers.
Without posing further questions, it is left up to good governance practices to implement policies that will also ensure the quality of immigrants entering the country in order to assist in the reduction of the crime rate and also the effort of sound immigration and labour policies to ensure labour market management; and not management through the sake of policy alone will achieve this but it will also take the un-doing of many years of conditioning that has led to unmanaged business practices that is contrary to sound economic management.
Problems due to open borders and government stepping up on conditions of immigration
Dutch and French St. Martin have long since co-existed side by side with the intention to allow the free flow of inhabitants between both sides of the island and also the common ownership of land resources as laid down in the Treaty of Concordia of 1648; this system has since paved the way for free open borders between both sides of the island. The social welfare system on the French side of the island that grant immigrants the right to social security, along with the open border policy and lack of internal control, has over the years lead to illegal immigrants flowing through to the Dutch side and often looking for work. The open border system has made it difficult to implement “in-land” dual border controls.
But since immigration problems have been on the rise over the last decade, federal and local governments have made efforts towards immigration controls at the main entry points; the process, however, has been long and slow. The Franco – Dutch Treaty initially proposed by Federal Dutch and French governments in 1994 and ratified in 2007, was only recently implemented, as of March this year, under current Justice Minister Mr. Roland Duncan.
Operations require both Dutch and French immigration officers to exchange operations and physical locations at the both airport entry points on the island a process soon to be implemented also at the Harbours according to the Minister of Justice. In aide of this process, visa requirements were put into effect earlier in 2011 for Jamaican and Guyanese travellers to the island along with other entry requirements that will determine whether or not they are allowed to enter the country on sufficient means.
Additional efforts have been made such as the Dutch Coast Guard Patrol that has been put in place which among their tasks are required to assist with uncontrolled illegal immigrant entry along Dutch shore lines.
Governments have made progress in the right direction towards border and immigrant controls. And, while the introduction of visa sanctions is put in place to potentially reduce immigrant influx,how this will affect the current situation of illegal immigrants on the island as well as further developments of the cooperation between the Dutch and French,remains yet to be seen.
Successful cooperationbetween both sides of the island will also be fuelled by a change in the social welfare system on French St. Martin to tackle the flow of illegal immigration from all angles not just one.
However,without proper documented figures on the numbers of illegal immigrants before and after, the effects would be left up to arbitrary interpretation to measure.
In addition, government should take keen note to ensure that current immigrant controls are implemented and adhered to in order to prevent a further increase in unskilled labour; with this in place, policies should then be implemented to manage the current supply of unemployed labour that comprises of both Dutch and non-Dutch nationals and especially those between the ages of 25 to 44 years of age as well as those under the age of 25 that are seeking work.
Businesses need to be actively engaged in training programs that encourage the employment of labour among Dutch and non-Dutch nationalscomplemented with incentives to encourage businesses.
Labour should also regulate training programs in combination with the need for businesses to hire foreign labour and ensure that the rules and regulations are implemented when it comes to the termination of the labour agreement of the foreign national.
Government would need to not only implement the policies but also take a proactive position of labour management in the private sector as well as government jobs.
As a country with more autonomous status than before 2010, St. Maarten needs to ensure the education of players on the labour market on the laws regarding International Labour Agreements when it comes to unfair labour practices. This would require the cooperation of the current government entitiessuch as, the Tax Office and Social Security Services as well as Labour & Social Welfare and other entities with an interest in the business community.
But at the ending of the day the many policies that are now needed, is a direct result of many years of an uncontrolled labour market and open border policy. Many other nationalities both legal and illegal have reached these shores and have made this island their home. It would now require a change in government to become proactive in enforcing the laws to manage the now labour market supply that currently exist.
After all that is said, we can conclude that it is the gazelle, portrayed as the immigrant in this story that has won the race. The question is, “what will become of the lion’s new strategy?” The story continues.
Petra Tuitt has a degree in International Business and Marketing Management. She offers administrative and business consultation to small and medium sized businesses, including start-ups. With the growing demand for her services, Ms. Tuitt has a steadily growing clientele. Her work profile includes projects for gathering statistics, research for business planning; proposal writing; business English writing and editing; as well as electronic document composition and editing.
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