Immigration agent detained with fist full of U.S. passports

For years some perpetual tourists here have faked their exits and re-entries into the country with the use of compliant immigration agents.

These are the residents, mostly North Americans, who are required to leave the country to renew their tourist visa every 90 days. In fact, the perpetual tourist is a resident but someone who chooses not to file for residency.

Some complain that the residency application is too costly, citing lawyer’s fees of up to $2,000. Others just do not have the money to post to be a rentista and do not have a valid pension to qualify for pensionado status. Others are in flight from some crime up north and cannot provide a clean police record.

For years there have been intermediaries who would carry the expat’s passport to a border crossing where for a fee an immigration agent would fake the exit and re-entry. On the Caribbean coast there was a notorious taxi driver who did this at Sixaola. In the Central Valley there was a criminal ring that simply faked the immigration stamps in the passport. Elsewhere there always were extra official stamps that could be used to fake the exit.

When Mario Zamora Cordero became director general de Migración y Extranjería he was well aware of the ongoing illegalities. He ordered that new stamps be created, each with the name of the immigration official who would use it.

Zamora is now head of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, the ministry that includes immigration. He is conducting an anti-corruption effort that includes immigration as well as the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas. There have been arrests of members of all those agencies.

The latest was Friday at Sixaola on the southeastern border with Panamá when investigators detained an immigration agent and confiscated U.S. passports.

The man has his first court appearance Monday in the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José. He faces a fraud charge. Presumably the owners of the passports that were confiscated will be receiving visits from investigators because they are suspects in a bribery probe.

The man is the third immigration agent to be arrested in recent months by the Unidad de Investigaciones of the Policía Profesional de Migración, the ministry noted.

For the expats involved, there could be serious repercussions. Some may own businesses or real estate here, but they are facing possible expulsion that would prevent them from returning to Costa Rica for a number of years, if then. They also may face a criminal charge.

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