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Costa Rica's immigration reform would encourage “xenophobic manifestations”

Rodrigo Chaves' government argues that measures will prevent the refugee system from being misused by economic migrants

Refugee applicants in Costa Rica

Redacción Confidencial

6 de diciembre 2022


The reforms to the migration and refugee policy approved this November 30 by the president of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, establish “a series of limitations and restrictions that violate already acquired rights” of people who need international protection, agree specialists in migration issues interviewed in the program Esta Semana, which is broadcast this Sunday through Facebook and YouTube, due to the television censorship of the Ortega regime.

“It restricts your right to mobilization, as it prohibits you from traveling to a third country. Many of the people who are based in Costa Rica are leaders and human rights defenders, who are being summoned to other international spaces and forums to continue the process of denouncing the Nicaraguan dictatorship. Secondly, there are a series of restrictions on the granting of refugee status that violate the Refugee Convention itself,” said Adilia Eva Solis, president of the Center for the Social Rights of Migrants (Cenderos) and one of the participants in the panel.

Among the key changes of these reforms is that the work permit for refugee claimants will no longer be extended in an expedited manner, but through a new procedure before the Migration offices.

In addition, all new refugee applications will be submitted in person within one calendar month from the day the person enters Costa Rica, without the need to request an appointment. Applicants will not be able to leave the country to a third country. If they do so, their process will be archived. Those who already have a work permit will be renewed only if the person is registered with the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS).

According to President Chaves, these measures are necessary to prevent the Costa Rican refugee system from being misused by economic migrants. At the same time, he highlighted the lack of financial support from the international community to attend to the thousands of refugee applicants, most of whom are Nicaraguans fleeing the repression of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. They are joined by Cubans and Venezuelans, mainly.

“These measures, far from contributing to social peace, to the social integration of foreigners living in the country or migrants in flow or people even in conditions of poverty, what they are doing is feeding xenophobic behaviors and manifestations”, warned Solis.

New procedure for work permits

One of the obstacles for new asylum seekers in Costa Rica is that they must complete a new procedure at the Immigration offices in order to obtain a work permit. Until Wednesday, November 30, according to Daguer Hernandez, former deputy director of Costa Rica's Immigration and Alien Affairs Directorate, who also participated in the Esta Semana panel, applicants for international protection were given their work permit and card in an expedited manner; the latter became effective three months after its issuance.

That step freed up the bureaucracy of a system that was beginning to become saturated with the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who began arriving in search of refuge, following the political violence unleashed by Daniel Ortega to crush the 2018 Civic Rebellion.

The former public official points out that at the time they did not have the human and material resources to meet the demand, but it will have to be seen if the current administration has the number of resources, officials, time, and offices to manage both procedures - refugee applications and work permit separately - because, indeed, labor migrants are going to continue to enter in refugee status.

“That is not going to end, because what needs to be resolved is the issue on the other side, the issue of labor migration. It is not a refugee problem. It is a problem of labor migration and what we have now, with these policies, is a loss of focus on what the problem is,” Hernandez said.

He also pointed out that the authorities are expected to comply with the remaining deadlines to effectively resolve refugee applications, now that a maximum of one calendar month has been established for a citizen to process his or her immigration status.


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For Solís, making the renewal of the work permit conditional on the person's contribution to the Costa Rican Social Security system is “absurd”, because it implies that the citizen must have a formal job, but if he/she does not have a valid permit, how will he/she get a work contract, the specialist questioned.

Immigration reforms should not be retroactive

Gonzalo Carrión, a member of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más, assures that they received with concern the changes in the Costa Rican migratory policy. He assures that, from a legal perspective, the reforms should not be retroactive; they should not affect those who are already applicants, but only new refugee applicants. However, the decrees do not clarify this point.

These reforms, mainly the work permit reform, could generate greater precariousness for tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, warns Carrión. The situation of many Nicaraguan nationals seeking refuge is not the best, in part, due to the economic consequences caused by the pandemic, to which these new restrictions are now added, he said.

According to the official statement “to date, the General Directorate of Migration and Aliens has received 222 056 refugee applications since 2018, of which 172 689 are still pending to be resolved”. 90% of the requests correspond to Nicaraguans who have been forced to leave due to the socio-political crisis.

“I think there are serious repercussions, severe repercussions, very unfortunate and, above all, for the Nicaraguan population, because they start from a lack of knowledge and a (not) adequate analysis of the conditions and the context. There is such a level of persecution and massive deterioration of rights (in Nicaragua) that any person feels threatened”, Solis stressed during the interview for Esta Semana.

“For the mere fact of dissenting in Nicaragua, you are persecuted, but by ignoring that reality and taking almost simplistic measures as established in these reforms, I can tell you that there are going to be serious consequences for those people who are going to be denied refuge,” she added.

Hindrances for special category

The recent reforms also create “the Temporary Special Category for Nationals of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which would come into effect on March 1, 2023”. People of these nationalities make up 96% of refugee claimants, according to Chaves.

Under this classification, these citizens will be able to work for two years, but they will have to renounce the refugee application, register with social security and prove that they do not have a criminal record in their country. These people could apply 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.

Daguer Hernández considers that the measure is adequate and similar to the one enacted during the administration of President Carlos Alvarado, with the limitation that now the presentation of an apostilled criminal record from the person's country of origin is requested and, if the person is not able to access it, he/she would not be able to apply to this migratory category. He points out that there are other security alternatives to compensate for this requirement since it is very difficult for people of these nationalities in refugee status to obtain the required documentation.

“For Nicaraguans who do not have reasons of political persecution it is easy to obtain a criminal record document, but for a person who has a situation of persecution it is not going to be easy,” said Hernandez.


This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Our Staff


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.