Costa Rica’s new immigration law provides for fines of up to $100 against undocumented residents for their “irregular” status and the issuance of sanctions against employers who hire them.
The law was adopted unanimously by the Congress on Tuesday and is expected to go into effect as soon as February 2010.
Both the increase in the number of immigrants, as well as alleged shortcomings of the old immigration law, led government officials to look at a series of changes they hope will improve security in Costa Rica and better facilitate immigration for foreigners looking to live here.
According to the Immigration Administration, there were nearly 284,000 permanent residents living in Costa Rica in 2007.
Nicaragua, Colombia and the United States topped the list of countries with the greatest number of legal residents here, with 220,000, 11,652 and 9,000, respectively.
Among the changes in the law are tougher residency-through-marriage rules, a possibility for extending tourist visas and the opportunity to apply for residency from within Costa Rica.
Legislators say the reforms do not place increased burdens on foreigners. Instead, they say the new law will help stem human trafficking for illicit purposes and grant immigrants further protections under the law.
“This act … offers a window of opportunities which respect human rights and expedite the transit processes, permitting the country to be one of the most open and flexible in the world,” said Adrián Jiménez, institutional planning aide at the Immigration Administration.
“One of the greatest advances of this law is the establishment of a new immigration model that legalizes the process of integrating immigrants into the Social Security system and raises resources (through a residency renewal fee),” he added.
Foreigners will be required to pay $25 to renew their residencies. Those funds will be used to help cover their use of medical services, education and other social services.
“This change will diminish the impact immigrants have on education and health programs, giving our social services more sustainability,” said Natalia Córdoba, legislative aide to one of the lead sponsors of the law, Olga Marta Corrales. “But it will also put immigrants into a position in which they can access these services.”
Important Points From the
Newly Approved Immigration Law
? Foreign visitors on tourist visas may stay in the country for up to 90 days, provided they prove they have adequate means of subsistence.
? Foreigners who stay in the country beyond the time period granted by immigration authorities will be fined the equivalent of $100 for each month of residence in the country.
? Foreigners will have to pay an additional $25 in order to renew residency in the country.
? Retirees looking to gain permanent residency in Costa Rica must show they receive a monthly pension of no less than $1,000.
? Rentistas (self-employed businessmen or foreign investors) must prove a monthly income of no less than $2,500 to gain residency. Currently, the minimum income is $1,000.
? Hotels and other hospitality sites must create a registry of people who stay at their establishments, which can be made available to immigration officials at any time.
? Individuals who provide work to undocumented foreigners risk being fined from two to 12 times the employee’s base salary.
? To obtain residency through marriage, a couple must be able to prove cohabitation. This must also be demonstrated on an annual bases for a period of three years, if the foreigner wants to renew his or her residency.
? Foreigners may apply for residency from within Costa Rica.
? Police may not detain immigrants with questionable residency status for more than 24 hours.