San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Immigration reform bill would remove residency fees for 'vulnerable' migrants

Lawmakers from the Citizen Action Party (PAC), National Liberation Party, Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), and the Broad Front Party announced their support for a partial immigration reform bill Wednesday afternoon that would exempt many “vulnerable” migrants who entered Costa Rica illegally from paying fees associated with legalizing their immigration status.

Many lawmakers said that the current system was out of touch with reality, arguing that the $310 fee to apply for residency was unrealistic for many migrants who work without legal status.

Domestic workers, for example, make a minimum wage of ₡152,588 per month, or $257, according to a statement from PAC leader Carmen Muñoz – more than 120 percent of their monthly salaries.

A proposed reform to Article 33 of the General Law of Migration and Aliens would make domestic workers, minors, refugees, stranded or stateless migrants, human trafficking victims, the elderly with disabilities and workers who cross borders exempt from paying the fees or fines associated with applying for residency in Costa Rica. 

Olinda Bravo, coordinator for the Roundtable on Women Migrants and Refugees in Costa Rica, which assisted in the drafting of the legislation, said that women and children were especially affected by living outside the legal system, lacking access to health care through Costa Rica’s socialized health care system and legal recourse.

PUSC lawmaker and bill supporter Gloria Bejarano said the bill would help migrants come out of the shadows and address the strains they put on public institutions, like the Costa Rican Social Security System, known as the Caja.

“These people are not only exploited for their status, but this also affects public systems like [the Caja] because they are not legally recognized and their employers do not cover their costs,” Bejarano said.

The bill proposes reforms to 15 of the immigration law’s articles. 

“We see this [bill] as an outstanding debt as Costa Ricans to construct immigration legislation that is more just, and guarantees the human rights of all the people who live and work in this country,” concluded José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party, another of the bill’s sponsors. 

The immigration bill now goes to commission for approval before moving to the floor for a vote. 

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