New Immigration Laws

Effective date put off more than a year
Immigration law to be shelved for more study
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new immigration law looks like a dead letter.

Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, said Wednesday that the executive branch would move to delay the effective date of the law until sometime in December 2007.

In the meantime, he said, Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president, would set up by decree a commission to study the human rights aspects of the law. Also to be studied would be the productive sectors of the country and the church. The commission would propose changes in the law as necessary, he said.

Arias has aired reservations about the law.

The net effect of the delay would be to cancel making human trafficking a criminal offense. A clause to punish so-called coyotes was in the new legislation.

Also delayed would be plans to penalize those who hire illegal workers. Berrocal estimated that perhaps 20 percent of the population of Costa Rica was illegal. Past administrations have said about 50,000 persons were here illegally. If Berrocal is correct, the number of illegals could be over 800,000. Most of these are Nicaraguans.

The delay also pre-empts plans to fine persons who harbor or even rent rooms to illegal immigrants. The Catholic Church runs shelters for aliens, and church leaders said they were worried that the weight of the new law would fall on them.

For expats, the delay means business as usual in applying for residency categories, primarily pensionado, rentista or inversionista. The new law sought to raise the financial capabilities required of those who want to move here.

Rentistas now have to show a monthly income of $1,000 for at least five years for a total of $60,000. The new law would have retained this amount for a single applicant but would have required $1,000 a month more (or $60,000 more over the life of the permission) for a spouse and lesser amounts for minor children.

The new director of Migración, Mario Zamora, said last week that the law might be delayed. But Berrocal spoke with the authority of the president and the president’s cabinet shortly after their Tuesday meeting.

Although many business people had expressed concern about the penalties in the new law, Berrocal blamed a lack of money. He said that a new detention center would have to be built, new vehicles purchased and 671 new budget lines created in the Dirección General de Migración.

Some of those who were to be hired were to beef up a more professional Policía de Migración, which now does not have the same authority as regular policemen.

Berrocal said the estimate to enforce the new law was 7 billion colons, nearly $14 million, an amount that did not exist. The Arias administration and Berrocal have made securing the nation’s borders a priority. A special frontier police force will be created.

Presumably some of this will find its way into the new draft of the immigration law.

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