San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Immigration Underwent ‘360-Degree Turn’

It was a roller-coaster year at Immigration.

Reforms to crack down on illegal immigration – which, after years of debate, were finally approved in 2005 – were set for implementation in August after an eightmonth grace period designed to let the General Immigration Administration prepare.

However, President Oscar Arias’ arrival on the scene in May turned that plan on its ear.

The longtime opponent of the new law, which gives Immigration police greater leverage in finding and deporting illegal immigrants, urged the Legislative Assembly to postpone it while the new administration came up with a new set of reforms. These efforts were in vain, and the law took effect in August as scheduled.

But Immigration Director Mario Zamora, who criticized the previous administration for failing to designate extra funds for the organization to implement the costly law, said he simply wouldn’t be able to comply. His team began drafting new reforms, which, at year’s end, were almost ready to submit to the Legislative Assembly. The latest draft included greater protections for immigrations’ rights, harsher punishments for human trafficking and trade, and a monthly tax for all foreign residents to help pay for education and health care.

Getting anything done at Immigration required lines and waits that were longer and longer as the year proceeded. New foreign residency cards, or cédulas, were introduced, but faulty printing caused many recipients to return their cards in October; meanwhile, those renewing their cédulas were told they’d have to wait 10 months or more for an appointment. Zamora issued a decree late in the year automatically renewing all foreigners’ cédulas, and said he was working to both open regional Immigration offices and to allow passport and cédula transactions to be conducted at Banco de Costa Rica locations.


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