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PHILIPSBURG – For over a hundred Sint Maarten students, their educational journey in the United States is currently threatened due to the recently announced immigration policy. As of the upcoming fall semester, students who will take all of their classes online are not permitted to remain in the U.S.

This decision will disrupt the livelihoods of students who already made down payments for their apartments or school fees. The difficulty also lies in returning home to conditions and an infrastructure that makes it uneasy to study online.

“International students offer great value to the communities they live in and should be offered the opportunity to complete their programs remotely if their institutions require them to do so” said Lili Forbes, student advisor to the Sint Maarten Tallahassee Student Association.

According to Forbes, this decision has a domino effect on the future of students in the U.S. It can cause “major financial burdens” due to moving out or being evicted if they cannot stay or return to the U.S.. That poses a risk of losing their health insurance and affects a students ability to graduate on time.

What are we going home to?
Christine Regis, is a social work major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and returned to the U.S. in fall of 2019 after taking a break in her studies. She was disappointed by the policy announcement because she is also hoping to do her internship in the U.S. before returning to the island.

Despite that she remains positive of the possibility to get active in her field if the decision comes down to her moving to Sint Maarten. However, her concerns with the salary cuts and economic forecast weighs on her mind. “It would be sad to return home in that situation” she stated and referenced other countries that are not asking international students to return.

Efforts being made to secure students
According to Regis, FAMU is ensuring that international students can have at least one face to face class. Roughly 250 international students currently study at FAMU and about 70 Sint Maarten students are studying in Florida alone.

However, other institutions have yet to announce their position. Division Study Financing has been in communication with students in the U.S. informing them of the policy. Sint Maarten has also organized a repatriation flight for students and Sint Maarten residents in the U.S. to return home on July 18.

In light of the new immigration policy, some students may either opt for studying in Europe or the division’s “study in the region (SIDR) program that provides scholarships to students who choose to study in other Caribbean islands or Canada.

At present the University of St. Martin (USM)  is not yet recognized officially by the government and the law on tertiary education, which would allow structural funding for the university isn’t ratified.

The challenges for Sint Maarten students

At the beginning of each year and at the end of every summer, dozens of Sint Maarten students travel to the Caribbean, United States, Canada and Europe to further their tertiary education in various disciplines. Some often return during school breaks or decide to remain abroad to work and continue their professional life. However, the journey comes with several challenges. Due to the limited degree programs and capacity of the University of St. Martin (USM), students often leave upon finishing high school. Several students often start at USM and transfer to other schools off island.