Tuesday , February 27 2024

Opinion: Going Dutch on St. Maarten

In its editotrial of today the Daily Herald applauds the launching of an Expat Handbook for St. Maarten (see Wednesday paper) as a promising development. Titled “Welkom op Sint Maarten! The Friendly Island,” it targets families and individuals moving here (temporarily) from the Netherlands and (Flemish part of) Belgium to live and/or work.

It raises the immediate question whether there are really enough European Dutchmen coming to the island to warrant such a publication. The answer is that their numbers appear to have been growing steadily.

There always will be some who see that as a negative thing and have gone as far as using loaded terms like “genocide by substitution” to describe also the infl ux of people from the European part of France on the French side and its impact on the local population. Others believe foreigners are taking too many jobs away from natives already.

The reality is that expatriates are still very much needed for vacancies that couldn’t be filled without them. In the same edition there was a report that the Catholic schools on the Dutch side alone are welcoming 35 new teachers and it would be interesting to known how many of them were brought in from the Netherlands. One must keep in mind that not all immigrants from the Netherlands are employees, but include, for example. pensioners as well, with their own independent sources of income that they spend on the island. There are also those who come to work for entities such as the Royal Marines who are paid directly by the Dutch Government.

One intriguing group are interns, who have become very prevalent mainly in Curaçao, so much so that their placement, guidance and accommodations are now big business. The Asjes cabinet strongly increased the fees for the necessary trainee permits recently, but despite initial protest the fl ow has not dwindled signifi cantly since.
There too persons complained that many of the interns end up in the hotel and restaurant industry while locals remain unemployed. The reasoning was that most service jobs don’t require the kinds of education and specialisation that could justify allowing “outsiders” to do them, whether it be as trainee or not.

However, it soon turned out the presence of so many young interns had a stimulating effect on tourism from the Netherlands, because it helped create an atmosphere whereby Dutch European visitors feel at home. Anyone who has observed Curaçao’s hospitality industry closely lately will have noticed this.

To what extent the interns are responsible remains unclear, but travel from the Netherlands has increased to the point where two airlines fl y to Hato Airport from Schiphol in Amsterdam practically daily and there are also fl ights from Dusseldorf, Germany, with Air Berlin. By contrast, St. Maarten gets only three KLM fl ights per week, while a considerable number of passengers actually are heading to Curaçao. Of course, one can connect through Paris with Air France or Air Caraïbes, but tourism from the Netherlands is still limited on “The Friendly Island.”
The argument is not that one should “open the fl oodgates” and actively start recruiting interns for jobs local youngsters can do, but facilitating trainee posts and promoting the Dutch side as destination for job training might not be such a bad idea. The expat guide is one way to do so.

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