Since 2015, the admission requirements for the Dutch Caribbean (Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the BES Islands) for US citizens are equal to those of European Dutch nationals. Although these requirements apply since 1 January 2015, the islands have been slower in actually implementing this policy. The latter of which resulted from a judgment of the Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba dated 15 December 2014.
General admission rules
The general rule is that, in principle, foreign nationals residing and (legally) employed in St Maarten, must possess a valid (i) work permit, and (ii) residence permit. However, this applies differently when it comes to European Dutch nationals. European Dutch nationals must apply for a Declaration of Admission by Right (verklaring van rechtswege toelating), which allows them to legally work and reside on the island.
Judgment of the Joint Court
On 15 December 2014, the Joint Court ruled that, based on the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty of 1956, the provisions of national law concerning admission and residence of Dutch nationals not born in the parts of the Kingdom located outside Europe (i.e. the Dutch Caribbean) should equally be applied to US citizens. The foundation for this judgment lies in a request from a US citizen to be admitted to St. Maarten based on a declaration of admission by right pursuant to the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, which was initially rejected by the Minister of Justice of St. Maarten. The Minister’s rejection was challenged in court by the applicant and the Minister’s rejection failed to hold up, both in first instance and in appeal.
Official policy change
While both the lower courts and the Joint Court previously ruled on the requirements for the admission of United States citizens, to St. Maarten in particular, based on the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, the Immigration and Border Control Agencies of Curacao and St. Maarten initially continued adhering to their own internal application and policy. In Curacao, however, the admission requirements for US citizens and Dutch European nationals were equated on 1 June 2015. On 10 September 2015, the Minister of Justice in St. Maarten announced that the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty would be fully implemented in line with the judgment of the Joint Court of December 2014.
What does this mean in practice?
Just like citizens of the European Netherlands, or Dutch citizens born outside the Caribbean, US citizens have the right to stay on the islands as tourists for a period of six consecutive months within a timeframe of one year. If they wish to stay longer or want to work on the islands, they have to file an application for admission by means of a declaration of admission by right. Therefore, US citizens are exempt from applying for a work permit. As soon as the application has been filed, they may also stay on the islands and are allowed to start working during the application period/procedure, while they await the issue of the declaration.
US citizens who want to file an application in Curacao and St. Maarten, must do so by filing a Model 4 form with the relevant immigration authorities. So far, both the forms and the lists of required documents have not been specifically adjusted and are only available in Dutch. The forms also do not (yet) refer to US citizens. The intention is that these be changed (in the long term), but until then, the clerks at the Immigration and Border Control Agencies in Curacao and St. Maarten are aware of the changed policy and will cooperate and assist applications in obtaining and filling out the appropriate forms.