San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
La Migra

Costa Rica deports 12 US students in language school dispute

Working at a language school in Costa Rica may sound like a dream short-term job. But before signing any contract, ask first whether you’d be expected to hide in the bathroom if immigration police show up.

On Feb. 26 Immigration Police raided the Máximo Nivel language school in the San Pedro neighborhood of San José. In all, 12 U.S. tourists between 18 and 21 years old were ordered to hand over their passports and report to the Immigration Administration to verify their status in Costa Rica.

The 12 tourists who studied and taught at the school were informed last week that they had 72 hours to leave Costa Rica, Immigration Administration spokeswoman Andrea Quesada told the Tico Times.

Authorities allege that the students were working as instructors without proper work permits, in violation of Costa Rican immigration law.

Máximo Nivel’s owner, Ken Jones, said that the 12 individuals were studying and doing community service in Costa Rica, not working.

Still, former Máximo Nivel employees told The Tico Times that the company has hired international tourists to work under the table in the past, and asked them to hide their status — literally — from authorities.

Two former Máximo Nivel employees, who agreed to speak to The Tico Times on the condition that they remain anonymous, said they knowingly worked under the table for the language school for months at a time without formal work permits. The sources asked to remain anonymous because of their relationships with current Máximo Nivel staff.

Both former employees said people working illegally at Máximo Nivel had been asked to hide in a back room when government inspectors arrived.

One of the employees said she was told to go out a side door and not come back to work on a day when inspectors arrived.

She said Máximo Nivel employees without work permits were told by management that they were responsible for maintaining a legal tourist visa, which involved leaving the country every 90 days, but that the company would not sponsor a work permit. The former employee, who began working for Máximo Nivel in 2013, shared her job offer from the language school with The Tico Times. The offer was sent from Jones’ Máximo Nivel email account.

One clause reads: “It is important to note that you will be working in Costa Rica without the benefit of proper work visas and residence permits. You and I have discussed this and you understand that you are responsible for keeping yourself ‘legal’ during your time in Costa Rica.”

Jones denied the alleged subterfuge, and said he wasn’t aware of employees being asked to hide from immigration authorities.

“None of that is something that I would have knowledge of. It sounds funny,” Jones told The Tico Times.

He said that all his staff are legally employed.

Máximo Nivel advertises courses taught by native English speakers on its website. The school offers English and Spanish classes, and language teaching certification. Máximo Nivel also organizes homebuilding, environmental conservation and healthcare volunteer opportunities for students.

Jones said that instructors are typically students seeking certification to teach English as a foreign language, known as TEFL. Part of that certification involves a teaching component but students are not paid, Jones said.

Students typically attend Máximo Nivel’s TEFL courses on a tourist visa, he said, which was the individual student’s decision. Costa Rica does offer student visas, but immigration law requires a letter of acceptance from an academic institution in order to apply for one.

When asked what kind of work permits Máximo Nivel offered its international staff and how staff were compensated for work, Jones declined to comment, saying the company’s human resource policy was confidential.

“We’re very careful about not compensating people for work they do in Costa Rica,” Jones said, “We’re not illegally employing anybody.”

Jones said that Máximo Nivel contributes $10,000 monthly to the Costa Rican Social Security System, commonly referred to as the Caja, and provides $350,000 to local host families for students annually.

One of the former employees who spoke to The Tico Times specifically referenced the school’s community service opportunities as one of the reasons they chose to work there, regardless of the lack of legal immigration status.

The Immigration Administration has taken a hard line on the status of the 12 individuals rounded up at Máximo Nivel in February.

“Someone who comes to Costa Rica on a tourist visa only has permission to, well, be a tourist here,” Quesada, the Immigration spokeswoman said in a telephone interview.

She noted that there are specific visas for tourism, study and volunteering. Even if someone is teaching English at the beach for a summer, they are legally required to have a work permit, she said.

A tourist can request to change his or her immigration status while in the country, Quesada pointed out. She also said there are work permits for short-term employment available that take less time to get than the lengthy process for obtaining residency.

But some employers may not be fully versed in Costa Rican immigration law.

Anna Karina, a lawyer with the firm Arias & Muñoz and director of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce’s Human Resources Forum, said some firms are unaware of the various options for work permits and visas. Others simply may not be willing to commit the time and resources to get them, she said.

If businesses in Costa Rica plan on hiring foreign nationals on a regular short-term basis, they should consider registering as a “known business,” or empresa reconocida, with the Immigration Administration, Karina said in an email. The human resources expert said that this step can help cut application times for new foreign workers.

Karina acknowledged that Costa Rica’s immigration laws can be labyrinthian and recommended hiring a lawyer who’s knowledgable about the system.

Despite the inconvenience, the 12 people rounded up at Máximo Nivel in February were told that they could re-enter Costa Rica as tourists. The Immigration Administration has not taken any additional sanctions against them or Máximo Nivel, according to an email from Immigration Administration spokeswoman Andrea Quesada.

It’s hardly just language schools that hire employees under the table. According to the most recent State of the Nation report, more jobs were created in Costa Rica’s informal sector — jobs without government-mandated healthcare, vacation time or legal work status — than in its formal sector in 2013.

The 2014 National Housing Survey reported that more than one in three middle and upper class Costa Ricans surveyed work in the informal sector. That number jumped to 72 percent for those living in poverty.

Working under the table is common for tourists looking to scrape together enough cash for a longer stay on Costa Rica’s beaches, and for some perpetual tourists who have made a life for themselves here, but never formalized their residency. But it’s still illegal.

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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traderwds

MOST LEGIT BUSINESS BEFORE THEY COMMENCE THEIR OPERATIONS ARE FULLY AWARE OF WHAT IS REQUIRED AND EXPECTED OF THEM BY THE GOVERNMENT/MUNICIPALITIES,ETC… IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO EXCUSE OR DEFENSE. IN THIS CASE, THIS FOREIGN BUSINESS OWNER IN CR WHO KNOWINGLY PROMOTED AND HIRED FOREIGN EMPLOYEES ILLEGALLY SHOULD BE THE PRINCIPAL PERP DEALT WITH TO DISCOURAGE FUTURE HIRING BEHAVIOR NOT ONLY BY FOREIGNERS BUT ASLSO NATIONALS; OTHERWISE BUSINESS OWENRS WILL CONTINUE TO DISRESPECT A LEGAL / GOVERNMENT SYSTEM WHICH ALREADY IS THE TARGET FOR DISHONESTY AND DISRESPECT-
A LOT OF FOREIGNERS HAVE CHOSEN AND MADE CR THEIR RESIDENCE BECAUSE THEY EXPECTED THE CORRUPT GOVERNMENT WOULD FAVOR THE BRIBE AND IGNORE THEIR DUTIES OF ENFORCING THE LAW – IS A CRAP-SHOOT FOR THOSE WHO DARE VENTURE BECAUSE SOMETIMES SOME OFFICIAL WILL BE HONEST

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David Chambliss

It’s a pain in the ass to get a work visa in CR. I couldn’t even get a cell phone when I was there. Most native English speakers only stay around a few months or a year at the most. For a company to go through all the cost and red tape to get someone a work visa just isn’t worth it in most cases.

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sabatico

David, when was that?? Now you can get a cell phone and SIM card in cereal boxes…

Other English schools do it, why can’t Máximo?

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SDIMITRI

Ticotimes… being “in the process” for your visa is by no means legal work status in the country. You clearly have permission to be in the country to try to get your residency, but you do NOT have permission to work. Sounds straight form the horses mouth there… Ticotimes is paying their people who are only in process of residency, but do not have their work visa! That would also mean Ticotime is skipping out CAJA and INS. Oh no oh no… jeeeez Ticotimes, you should be better than this.

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soupydoupy

You gotta hand it to these dumb asses….they cripple one of the best language schools in Costa Rica while all kind of businesses that have a negative value to society operate with impunity. It’s like how the traffic police stop good safe drivers for coming into San Jose in violation of the driving restriction while jerks go driving by texting–even on motorcycles!–and they never get a ticket.

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sabatico

Let’s be honest. There are other institutions like the Centro Cultural Británico that employ native speaking teachers in a legal way, as well as Centro Cultural Norteamericano.

People are interpreting this news as it was a struggle between the government against inocent volunteers when in fact it is about a greedy business model making money of people who are paying to “intern” and also people that are paying to learn English. I wouldn’t like to study in this school. There are far better schools in Costa Rica.

People also interpret that this deported folks were working as volunteers for the poor but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Tico Times: please clarify.

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Honest man

This was a good school and maybe that because the hired real people to work there.

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sabatico

Insider post :/ We’ve seen you doing this around forums and review sites. Shame.

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SDIMITRI

Ticotimes and Zach Dyer should be careful of the double standard. It’s clear Zach Dyer was working for Ticotimes before he was legally able to work in CR. See dates on Facebook posts and articles below…

Articles by Zach Dyer (see dates written)
https://www.google.com/search?q=%22Zach+Dyer%22+%22ticotimes.net%22&biw=1680&bih=949&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A1%2F1%2F2013%2Ccd_max%3A4%2F30%2F2014&tbm=

The author’s own post about his experience getting residency in Costa Rica:
https://www.facebook.com/zkdyer/posts/10100435961291902

I’m surprised Ticotimes decided to run something like this, when they’re clearly part of the “informal system” too. I guess Immigrations should go “raid” Ticotimes.

Too bad Ticotimes and Zach Dyer :-(, if you’re going to be “investigative” then be sure you’re clean and pure first.

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Jill Replogle

All Tico Times employees are legal. All foreigners working at The Tico Times are in the process of getting residency.

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SDIMITRI

Jill, as the MANGAGING EDITOR, for the Ticotimes, this is really disgraceful. By your own admission here you “employ” people who are in the process of getting their residency visa. And now your writer, Zach Dyer, has killed the link (see above) to the clear evidence of his own sordid story of working illegally in Costa Rica. No worries though, I have screenshots. THERE’S clearly a story here as the cover up has begun!

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Honest man

If your in the process of getting residency you do not have any right to work in Costa Rica. There are lots of unemployed people in CR that have legal rights to work. Tico Times is Two faced. IF you don´t like the posts you take them down. Where is the free speech Tico Times. Jill your post is very sad when Costa Rica has 10% unemployment and Tico times hires under the table workers. Shame on Tico TImes

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SDIMITRI

Jill, being “in the process” for your residency visa is by no means legal work status in the country. You have permission to be in the country to move through the residency process, but you do NOT have permission to work. Sounds straight form the horse’s mouth there… I think I’ll copy this straight over to Immigrations so they can go “do their job.” Ticotimes is paying their people while they are only in process of residency, but do not have their work visa! That would also mean Ticotime is skipping out CAJA and INS. Oh no oh no…

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Doobrey

Ben. Good riddance to you. People need to pay into the system or else it’ll collapse. Yes there’s corruption but let’s fight that first without thinking so selfishly. But I guess you’re ok aren’t you?

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Honest man

I have know Ben for 20 years he still has an offices and staff and Land in Costa Rica and spends lots of time in Costa Rica and Panama. Ben is right on many issues about Costa Rican goverment. For example the goverment is very corupt. Ben is also right about Gambling houses they are owned by US citizens that only hire under the table workers. Why is that the Costa Rican goverment never goes after the gambling house because they pay off the corupt goverment aka mafia aka Costa Rica goverment.
Also Doobrey Ben still has 40 staff in Costa Rica working at his warehouse and has invested lots of money into CR and he pays all benfits to CAJA and all his taxes and does not hires under the table workers. Also Ben is Costa Rican and his Family are Costa Rican. Ben is also right about Panama for small business its a lot better than Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a real mess and i see the goverment in Costa Rica as Mafia that extort poor and middle class so they stay in power.

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David Boddiger

Did you really just create another account to comment on your own post in third person? Wow.

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Honest man

What the hell are you saying? I hope you have legal rights to work in CR,?

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Ben

IF the Costa Rican Immigration want to arrest under the table workers go to Sabana and walk into any Gambling house they are full of under the table workers. The owner of this english school should move to Panama they like small business i moved my company there and thing are going great, Costa Rican goverment hates US;Canadian´s and want to suck us all dry. Costa Rican goverment is Corupt and this English school should have paid the Immigration off like all the gambling house do and call centers.

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sabatico

You seem to know a lot about gabling houses a.k.a. night clubs.

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Smokey

After two years, I can see why a slew of companies are packing up and leaving. Costa Rica is not a friendly place to do business. The government is so corrupt, it has metastasized to the culture at large. Institutions like immigration treat North American’s like total shit.

I had a lawyer’s assistant tell me this week, “You Gringos comedown here with your money and expect everything.”

Had I not married a Tica, both me and my 401K would be gone!

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