San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Marriages of Convenience Targeted

If the new immigration reform is approved, foreigners will have to live with their Costa Rican spouses for at least two years before they can become legal residents of this country.

The new law would require foreign applicants to be legally married in Costa Rica for two years before applying for residency. A foreigner must then prove, “irrefutably,” that they have been living with their spouse for two consecutive years. In the meantime, the foreign spouse can obtain a temporary residency permit.

The reform is Immigration’s response to a string of high court rulings that have basically rendered officials powerless in the face of possible marriages of convenience for purposes of obtaining residency here.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) has ruled against Immigration a total of 740 times for denying residency to foreigners whom authorities suspected got married just to get legal in Costa Rica.

The court had repeatedly informed Immigration Director Mario Zamora, who had been declared personally responsible on several occasions for the cases, that it isn’t Immigration’s job to evaluate the status of legally registered marriages.

The latest case was this week, when five alleged hit men from Colombia were captured after plotting to take out top administration officials in Costa Rica. Two of the suspects had signed what appear to be marriages of convenience with Costa Ricans they didn’t know, according to Immigration Police Director Francisco Castaing. The documents were still being processed in the Civil Registry when the arrests took place last week, and the suspects have since been deported (see separate article).

In another high-profile case, Héctor Orlando Martínez, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), wanted for his alleged part in killing some 140 people in Colombia, including the 1999 massacre of 47 police, was arrested in Costa Rica last September and deported in December. Martínez received Costa Rican residency papers in “record time” in 2000, in what Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal called a “clear case of corruption,” in which the Colombian married a Costa Rican and obtained residency a week later (TT, Aug 18, 2006).

In a series of raids around the Central Valley last November, investigators arrested eight lawyers allegedly dedicated to setting up more than 50 questionable marriages. The suspects charged foreigners as much as $10,000 for marriage papers signed by Costa Ricans so the foreigners could get residency. The daily La Nación did an investigation in the northern Central Valley town of Heredia and found many impoverished Costa Rican women had been approached by lawyers seeking to set up marriages, and signed papers in exchange for roughly $40.

After Immigration authorities rounded up more than 100 foreign women in mid-April in what at first seemed to be a fruitful Friday night sweep of the downtown Hotel Del Rey, a popular joint for clients seeking prostitutes, authorities lamented having to let free all but a handful of detainees. It turns out most of the arrested foreigners were married to Costa Ricans, and almost all of the marriages were suspected to be for immigration purposes.

“They said they were married. When we asked them who they were married to, they didn’t know the names of their husbands, and had to take documents out of their wallets to read us the names,” said Minister Berrocal.

He called marriages of convenience “a mockery” of the system.

“We have to defend the family – when it’s a real family,” he said.


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