New Immigration Rules in Costa Rica for Asylum Seekers

They will not have expedited work permits or be able to leave the country

Asylum applicants face obstacles, although a special category for migrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua is renewed. Find out the details here.

By Cindy Regidor (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Costa Rican President, Rodrigo Chaves, announced on Wednesday, November 30, important changes in immigration and asylum policy that will affect Nicaraguans, who represent the vast majority of asylum applications in the country. The most important aspects are:

-Work permits for asylum seekers will no longer be granted expeditiously, but after completing a procedure before the immigration authorities.

-All new asylum applications must be submitted in person within one calendar month from the day of the person’s entry into Costa Rica, without the need to request an appointment, but in person.

-A person who has already been granted a work permit as an asylum seeker will have it renewed only if he/she is registered with the Costa Rican Social Security Fund.

-Asylum seekers will not be allowed to leave Costa Rica, neither to their country of origin nor to other destinations.

-A special category will be renewed so that Nicaraguans, Cubans and Venezuelans can legalize their migratory situation.

On November 30, the two decrees containing these changes were signed: one involving a reform to the Refugee Regulations (effective upon its publication) and the other on the Temporary Special Category for Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan nationals (effective as of March 2023).

President Chaves had already warned on November 16 that he would take measures to “prevent our refugee regulations from being improperly exploited by people who want to emigrate to Costa Rica and stay here to work.” As a reason he noted the lack of financial support from the international community to attend to the tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the country.

The statements of the Costa Rican President were questioned by migrant rights groups, refugees, and asylum seekers defense organizations, while the United Nations requested information from Costa Rica on changes in its migration policies.

The UN acknowledged that its agencies have received “insufficient support from the international community” to attend the “movements of people,” although it emphasized that the amount executed to support migrant and refugee populations totals 94 million dollars.

Travel restriction for asylum seekers is questioned

The new restriction that asylum seekers will have to leave Costa Rica not only to their country of origin, but to any other destination, will affect people who “have a legal standing condition to be refugees,” the former deputy director of Immigration and Foreign Services of Costa Rica, Daguer Hernandez, explained to Confidencial.

In his experience heading this institution between 2018 and May 2022, “the people who could be granted refugee status are the ones who request authorization to leave the country on the basis that they have relatives outside the country or go out to conferences to express the conditions of persecution in their country of origin.”

Hernandez added that “those who are really being persecuted are the people who will be affected by the restriction to leave the country. Labor migrants who abused the refugee system to (get) a work permit are not affected by the restrictions to leave the country, (because) they are in Costa Rica working, they are not interested in leaving the country.”

The expert also referred to the changes that will delay the granting of the work permit to those who request refuge.

He explained that article 54 of the Refuge regulation already establishes that (the work permit) must be granted three months after applicant’s case has not been resolved.” This is done “in compliance with international regulations and UNHCR recommendations,” and said that being a regulation, it can be changed and modified by the Executive, as Chaves did.

However, the logic behind issuing the work permit three months after the application is made, obeys the need to give the person the economic possibility to subsist. With the entry into force of the new policy, applicants must “comply with the internal procedure established by the institution and the decision will be communicated in due time” to obtain the work permit.

Special category for Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans

In the communique as well as in the press conference, President Chaves’ Administration announced the creation of “the Special Temporary Category for Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan nationals, which will come into force on March 1, 2023.” People of these nationalities make up 96% of asylum seekers, noted Chaves.

With that category, these people will be able to work for two years, provided that they renounce the refugee application, register with Social Security and prove that they do not have a criminal record in their country. In addition, as long as they have made their refugee application between January 1, 2010, and September 30, 2022, and have not been in their country of origin during that period.

This category had already been active by the previous administration of President Carlos Alvarado and was called “complementary protection.” Through it, almost one thousand Nicaraguans were able to regularize their immigration status.

The renewal of this mechanism is viewed favorably by Hernandez because it is a path for migrants of these nationalities who want to regularize their migratory status in Costa Rica. “I would add, in addition to the people applying for refugee status, it affects other applicants of other migratory categories that have more than two years of presenting (the request) in Immigration and that have not been resolved. This would also contribute (to unblock) ordinary migratory categories,” he explained.

Rodrigo Chaves: “Costa Rica will keep its arms open to legitimate refugees

In justifying that these changes that will imply obstacles for refuge applicants, Chaves said in his weekly press conference that “Costa Rica will keep its arms open to legitimate refugees. However he said there are times when people abuse generosity, and I do not blame them. We had an open door through which economic migrants posed as the type of people who deserve refuge in order to work in the country.”

According to the official communique, “to date Immigration Services has received 222,056 refugee applications since 2018, of which 172,689 are still pending to be resolved.” Ninety percent of applications belong to Nicaraguans who have been forced to leave because of the sociopolitical crisis that broke out in Nicaragua in 2018 due to the brutal repression ordered by the Ortega-Murillo regime. The authorities sought to quell the massive citizen protests demanding Daniel Ortega’s departure from power and the restoration of democracy.

The Costa Rican immigration statement also added “the institution has detected that between 80% to 90% of the people requesting refuge do not qualify within the definition of this international protection, including economic migrants or those who have been living in the country for years and have never normalized their status.” In Nicaragua, the sociopolitical crisis continues unresolved, and the intensification of the repression has caused a deterioration of the economic situation, so that tens of thousands have been forced to emigrate mainly to the United States and Costa Rica.

In the last two years an unprecedented exodus has taken place, which is reflected in the 147,270 “encounters” or detentions of Nicaraguan migrants at the US border in the first ten months of the current year, according to the US Customs and Border Protection. In Costa Rica, between January and October 2022, 69,891 refugee applications were recorded.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times



One thought on “New Immigration Rules in Costa Rica for Asylum Seekers

  • There remains an unjustly erroneous perception of refugees and migrants as basically willfully/contently becoming permanent financial/resource burdens on their host nations. Many are rightfully desperate human beings, perhaps enough so to work very hard for basic food and shelter. They should be treated humanely, including timely access to Covid-19 vaccination.

    Often overlooked is that many (im)migrants are fleeing global-warming-related chronic crop failures in the southern hemisphere widely believed to be related to the northern hemisphere’s chronic fossil-fuel burning, beginning with the Industrial Revolution. And what ever happened to our self-professed Christian charity and compassion, anyway?

    I have also noticed over the decades that the strong work ethic practiced by these workers is exceptional, particularly in the produce harvesting sector. It is hump-busting hard work others won’t tolerate for themselves [myself included]. I can truly imagine such laborers being fifty to a hundred percent more productive than their born-and-reared-here counterparts.

    No, I’m not saying a strong work ethic is a trait racially genetically inherited by one generation from a preceding generation, etcetera. Rather, it’s an admirable culturally determined factor, though also in large part motivated by the said culture’s internal and surrounding economic and political conditions.

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