New immigration regs contain little for expats

If pigeons were a cash crop, the central government could balance the budget. The birds that inhabit downtown San José and deface the structures on which they roost have experienced a population explosion. That is in part because vendors sell bags of corn that well-meaning visitors feed to the pigeons. Periodically the municipality provides corn laced with a chemical to keep the population in line, and that time is approaching. A.M. Costa Rica photo

The executive branch finally has published regulations to support the immigration law that went into effect March 1, 2010.

The regulations cover the finer points in enforcing the law, and the bulk of the 29,338-word document addresses technicalities. Few of the 365 sections address items of importance to expats.

And those questions dear to the hearts of perpetual tourists remain unanswered. For example, the regulations do not say how long an individual must remain out of Costa Rica before returning and getting a renewed tourist visa. The general belief is that there is no time period for immigration but that the customs or Dirección de Aduana enforces a 72-hour absence for bringing in items that may be exempt from duties.

The regulations showed up in the La Gaceta official newspaper in January as a proposal. The government sought comments then. The regulations published a week ago in the La Gaceta said that the document was signed by President Laura Chinchilla May 23. There was no explanation as to why the publication was delayed.

Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica, who keeps track of immigration matters, pointed out the publication in an email to A.M. Costa Rica. He noted that there is no mention of the various
immigration categories, such as rentista or pensionado in the regulations. He said he thinks that a lot of detailed information of interest to expats and those seeking residency have been left out of the final draft when compared to the previous one that surfaced in January.

The regulations do address penalties for hiring foreigners who do not have the right to work in Costa Rica. The fine can be as much as 12 times a base salary. A single base salary is about 320,000 colons. Employers are supposed to verify the right that a job applicant has to work in Costa Rica. The Policía de Migración y Extranjería has the right to enter workplaces along with representatives of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to verify that all there are legal and enrolled with the Caja.

The regulations continue to require that hotel owners and others who rent rooms to foreigners keep a registry of who stays, similar to a traditional hotel registry. This, too, is open to police inspection. This requirement is in the law, but the regulations say in detail the procedures police are supposed to take if they find a renter who is an illegal resident.

This is the first time in years that the immigration law has been supported by regulations. A law passed during the administration of Abel Pacheco was superseded without regulations ever being adopted by this new one passed in late 2009 during the Oscar Arias Sánchez administration.

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