Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal announced Wednesday that reforms to the country’s Immigration Law are ready for submission to the Legislative Assembly.
President Oscar Arias, a longtime critic of the existing law approved before he took office in May 2006, reviewed the reforms at his weekly Cabinet meeting. (The law took effect in August, despite Arias’ efforts to convince legislators to postpone it.)
Following the meeting, Berrocal and Immigration Director Mario Zamora told reporters the package of 60 reforms will, if approved, overhaul the Immigration Police, toughen punishments for human traffickers, make it easier for immigrants to legalize their status, and put Costa Rica in compliance with international human-rights treaties.
Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Eugenia Sancho told The Tico Times the bill could be submitted to the assembly at any time.
The existing law was approved in 2005 after years of debate, despite criticism from the Catholic Church, human-rights activists and other groups.When the Arias administration took over, its ministers added to the chorus by arguing that it is impossible for the under-funded Immigration Administration to comply with the law without additional funds.
The reforms presented to the Cabinet this week were drafted by a team at Immigration that consulted with advisors from all the political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly, Church leaders, academics and other groups. Because of this approach, the bill should reach a vote quickly, Berrocal said.
“It’s a consensus bill,” he said.
The reforms contain both good and bad news for foreign residents. On the upside: Now, foreigners seeking a change in their immigration status must visit the Costa Rican consulates in their countries of origin as part of the process, but the reforms would remove that requirement to simplify the process. Procedures for businesses seeking immigration permits for temporary workers from Nicaragua or other countries would also be simplified.
However, the bill does require foreign residents to pay a monthly tax for public education and health services, Berrocal said. He added that the exact amount of such payments is up to the Legislative Assembly; Zamora told The Tico Times last year that the payments would likely be $8-17.
Berrocal said such a contribution is “rational,” but George González, head of immigration services at the Costa Rican Residents’ Association, said in December that demanding such a payment would be unfair and perhaps illegal.
“It would be unconstitutional to say that foreigners have to pay more than nationals,” he said. “It has to be based on income” (TT, Dec. 8, 2006).