by Christine Pratt
courtesy of The Tico Times
Foreigners thinking about applying for Costa Rica residency should be quick about it – plans are in the works that will, starting in January, oblige them to do it from outside the country, through a Costa Rican consulate.
According to Immigration Director Marco Badilla, the new procedure is not because the law is changing, but because Immigration officials now seek to apply the law that already exists.
"At no time will residency requests be processed from applicants who have entered the country with a tourist visa," reads Chapter 2, Article 41 of the General Immigration Law.
And Badilla says the new administration’s goal is to apply the letter of the law. "The consulates abroad will receive all the documentation and will forward it all to us," Badilla said.
The applicant will pay all the regular costs, plus the transfer costs of mailing the documents. This will apply only to new applicants – those who have pending applications will be processed without having to start over via a consulate."
At least, that’s what Badilla and Chief Consul Ricardo Otárola hope.
Otárola said both institutions await the Attorney General’s opinion on their request to apply existing practices to the some 6,000 pending applicants, even though the law demands otherwise.
"What we don’t want is for all the pending applicants to have to start from scratch through a consulate," Otárola told The Tico Times, but it depends what the Attorney General says.
Badilla said the ruling could come at any time. Both Immigration and the Foreign Ministry expect to begin the "new" procedure at a still undetermined date in January.
Applicants must then originate the residency-application process from their home countries by working directly with the nearest Costa Rican consulate. It will no longer be possible to apply while here, or by using one of the many residency services, including that offered by the Residents’ Association of Costa Rica (ARCR).
ARCR’s Ryan Piercy admitted that, pending the Attorney General’s ruling, all anyone can do is "sit tight and wait."
But, if the ruling will allow pending applications to be processed, those who are thinking about become Costa Rica residents should probably begin the procedure now, before the change takes place in January.
"Right now, a tourist who has been notified of deportation can’t apply for residency," Piercy explained of the "perpetual tourists" who arrive here on 90-day tourist visas, then overstay and are arrested by Immigration officials. "But a legal tourist still can."
Both Piercy and residency facilitator Raquel Solís agree that past stories of consular inefficiency don’t bode well for the new residency procedure.
Complicated at best, the process requires official Spanish translations of reams of documents, including birth and marriage certificates, good-conduct records, statements explaining why the applicant seeks residency, educational transcripts, recent fingerprints. Applicants must designate a local "apoderado" who can receive legal correspondence and act on their behalf.
"If it’s hard for a Costa Rican consulate to authenticate a single document without losing something, how can it be expected to handle the entire residency application?" Solís wanted to know. "Tico consulates may be in the U.S., but they are still run by Ticos."
Otárola admitted that consular officials abroad will need additional training, but couldn’t say by press time what the Foreign Ministry is doing to prepare them to take on residencies.
Badilla said procedures for renewing an already obtained residency will not change, nor will the procedure for acquiring tourist visas, which is stamped inside a visitor’s passport upon entry. Likewise, legal tourists may apply for work permits.
But he added that the tourist card – another convenience currently extended citizens of the U.S., Canada and land-traveling Panamanians – will be eliminated as of Dec. 31.
The tourist card makes it possible for citizens of these nations to enter Costa Rica without passports. It is issued upon entry – or via a consulate abroad – to travelers who present certified birth certificates and valid photo identification.
After Dec. 31, U.S. citizens, Canadians and Panamanians will need passports to enter Costa Rica, just as all other nationalities do.
"From a legal and security standpoint, we’ve decided that the tourist card is obsolete," Badilla said.