Finer points of immigration law near publication

Regulations covering application of the immigration law took another step forward Tuesday.

The Consejo de Gobierno, the president’s cabinet, got a look at the proposal that has been in the works for nearly a year.

Expats have a deep interest in the regulations because they will affect the day-to-day operation of immigration officials.

The next step is for President Laura Chinchilla to review the regulations. Then, if she is satisfied, she will issue a decree putting them into effect. Casa Presidencial said that this might happen within a week.

Of course, the president might order changes, and that could delay when the rules go into force.

The new immigration law went into effect last March 1. There has been a flood of misinformation. For example, Mario Zamora, then-immigration director, said then that tourists would be able to stay in the country for a full year by paying for 90-day extensions. That may have been the intent of the law, but a close reading seems to say that this benefit only applies to those with less than 90-day visas. The usual North American visa is for 90 days.

He also said at that time that the regulations would be published within 15 days. That this did not happen suggests that there was lengthy negotiations within the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Zamora caused a panic among some expats in February when he said that tourists would not be able to go to the same country twice to renew their visa and that after two trips to renew a visa a tourist will have to stay out of Costa Rica for a minimum of 15 days.

Later he said he was mistaken, but that raised the question of why a man intimately acquainted with the immigration law could be so far off base.
Expats who are so-called perpetual tourists are waiting to see if Zamora really was giving hints of what would be in the regulations.

Government officials were upbeat about the regulations Tuesday, although they did not address specifics. Casa Presidencial said that the Chinchilla administration was seeking an immigration policy that would encourage foreign investment and cause social and economic development.

The regulations cover immigration, legal residency, exits and arrivals to Costa Rica, minors, and the handling of different types of visas.

The new immigration law expanded the types of visas that are available so that the category of tourist is not a catch-all for persons visiting for non-tourism reasons.

Zamora now has been raised to the post of vice ministry with oversight of the immigration department. He said Tuesday that Costa Rica has 600,000 legal foreign residents and that it has the highest per capita number of refugees in the American continent.

The ministries of Comercio Exterior and Trabajo participated in drawing up the regulations.

The law was drawn up and passed during the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. Arias and his aides said they thought that a law passed in the preceding Abel Pacheco administration was too draconian.

It is the new immigration law that requires legal residents here to affiliate with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The purpose is to integrate foreigners into the Costa Rican society, officials have said.

Perpetual tourists are those visitors who leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourism visa. Some have been doing that for years. Others simply give their passports to a local taxi driver who carries the documents to the border for stamping.

One aspect of the new immigration law is to provide recognition to the Policía de Migración.

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