San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Campaign Heats Up Against Expat Bill

An expat group is warning that Costa Rica could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment and tourism under an immigration overhaul now nearing a vote in the Legislative Assembly.

The bill, which recently passed out of committee, would dramatically increase the income that some expats must prove to apply for residency.

Expats applying for residency as pensioners would have to prove a $2,000 monthly pension, up from $600. Those applying as rentistas, or wage earners, would have to prove $5,000 monthly income, up from $1,000. The law would not apply to expats who already have residency.

The immigration bill is awaiting debate on the legislative floor.

The new requirements aim to ensure that foreign residents contribute to the Costa Rican economy, Immigration Director Mario Zamora said.

But Ryan Piercy, director of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, said the proposal would deter expats from seeking residency here, while discouraging development projects that cater to them and tourists who visit them.

Piercy, whose Canadian parents gained residency as rentistas in the early 1990s, persuaded lawmakers to ax a similar proposal in 2004.

Zamora said Thursday he is willing to negotiate a smaller increase in the income requirements. He said he will work with the association to draft an amendment to the bill.

Piercy claims that even expats who earn the required amounts still may not qualify for residency because of the way their income is measured.

Retirees might make more than $2,000 from savings, investments, retirement accounts and 401(k) plans, but Immigration does not count that money as part of their “pension,” Piercy said.

Meanwhile, a rentista must submit a letter from a financial institution guaranteeing that he will make the required monthly income for the next five years. Banks generally write such letters only if the entire amount – $300,000, under the proposal – is deposited in an account, said Romulo Pacheco, the association’s lawyer.

About 9,000 pensioners and rentistas live here, said Immigration spokeswoman Heidy Bonilla. However, expats can apply for residency under other categories, such as business professional or investor, but those application requirements can be equally cumbersome.

–Gillian Gillers


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