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Lack of Regulations Turning Immigration Into Circus

by Garland M Baker on March 19, 2007

Immigration law in Costa Rica is currently a circus. People’s tempers are raging.

Immigration employees do not know the answers to questions. If one is lucky enough to get an appointment, it could be so far into the future one seriously wonders if he is going to be around to use it. There is a moratorium on renewing foreigner identification cards until July because the renewal system has disintegrated.

One of the many problems is there are no rules for the new immigration law which came into effect in December 2005.

Laws are like policy, a course of action. For example, “honesty is the best policy.” However, laws like policy do not set out rules or procedures to follow. Laws are sometimes vague and need step-by-step instructions. This is especially true in Costa Rica where the rule is “if something is not prohibited, it is permitted.” Ethics and honesty be damned.

A case in point is Article 75 of the new Immigration Law. This article affects the lives of most expats living legally in Costa Rica.

Summarizing the article of the law, it states, Costa Rican Immigration can authorize residencies to the following people: 1.) spouses of Costa Ricans who can prove a connubial relationship; 2.) religious missionaries for those religions that are approved by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto; 3.) executives, representatives, managers, and technical personnel for companies considered a priority to the country; 4.) investors; 5.) retired persons (pensionados); 6.) scientists, professionals and technicians; 7) athletes accredited by the Consejo Nacional de Deportes; 8) journalists; 9) relatives of the handicapped or the incapacitated, and 9) annuitants (rentistas).

The article generates a bunch of questions: What constitutes a connubial relationship or a missionary? How big does a priority company need to be to get their employees into Costa Rica? How much do you have to invest to be an investor? Do retired people need to be of a particular age? What kinds of scientists, professionals and technicians? And so on.

Rules or bylaws to laws in Costa Rica are reglamentos. Most laws here have them. The old Immigration Law 7033 had one. In theory, it died with the law when the new Immigration Law 8487 replaced it.

So what are people doing? How are they applying for residency?

Well, the organizations in town that process residencies are using the old rules. However, the immigration program is a crap shoot, especially for the investor residencies. A person can qualify in every respect and still have their application turned down. Since there are no rules for the law, applications are processed based on the whims of the immigration employees.

Articles 63 and 64 of the old immigration law reglamento regulated investor residencies. It stated that investors could become residents of Costa Rica using the rules of the reglamento to apply. Decree 26634 states investors must invest $200,000 in a project to qualify or $50,000 in an investment the government deems a priority.

There is a fast track to Costa Rican residency, Forestry Law 7575, Article 70. It is not in question right now because it is part of an existing law that is in full force. Investing $100,000 in reforestation qualifies an individual, their spouse and children under 18 to immediate residency. One company in reforestation is pre-approved for this program.

Will there be a new reglamento for the new immigration law? Probably not, the legislature is fighting to change the current law. No one likes it. Obviously, it does not work or things would not be in such a mess. Many do not like the proposed changes either.

For those people looking at Costa Rica as a home for the future, bring popcorn and plenty of hot dogs. This circus is going to last for a while.

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