By Eric Robinson

The proposed changes in the immigration laws being debated by the Costa Rican Asamblea Legislativa leave me concerned. At a time when the global economy is weakening and pensioners are hard hit, these laws are the last thing senior foreigners need, requiring to prove they have a guaranteed dollar income 333% higher than the present requirement (from $600 to $2000 per month). Now I could be sarcastic and warn you about those terrible ‘pensionados’, but please, give me a break, are foreign pensioners a big problem in Costa Rican society? Do they form a higher percentage of armed robbers, or violent rapists, or dead-beat fathers, or are they usually more the victims than the culprits in crime, more giving than receiving?

And as everyone is seeing the first signs of economic belt-tightening, the proposed law also wants to raise the guaranteed existing income of other foreigners now living in Costa Rica by 500% from US $1000 to $5000 monthly. Though it is a younger group than the pensionados, are they generally a burden to Costa Rica or an asset? Are they a high crime group? Do they tend to take from families in Costa Rica or support them? Do they take work away or tend to invest their limited resources, abilities and ideas to create work?

Consider visitors in general to Costa Rica. Rather than the hedonistic self-pleasuring, drunken party animals that frequent Cancun, Jamaica and Miami, visitors here tend to be of a higher order. Most use the internet to make intelligent and exciting vacation plans which include learning experiences, volunteer work and adventure tourism, quality visitors enjoying a quality country.

I advise Adventure Inn guests to pick up their garbage, and trod lightly in the jungles, not to barter for souvenirs too hard, and to tip well for good service. Plaques hanging in each of my hotel rooms suggest visitors observe, listen, understand and empathize rather than see, hear, take pictures and boast, but generally I feel I am already preaching to the converted.

Do the law makers pushing for these new financial requirements of foreigners (several times the average national average income) think that visitors generally setting these examples of clean living have no merit? Do these same law makers not realize that visitors open the eyes of Ticos to what a wonderful country they have, and thus their need to protect it? Do they not see the money coming from foreigners as spreading the wealth and offsetting the balance of trade with other countries?

I have been clamouring for an answer beyond just plain stupidity, as these proposed immigration laws don’t make sense, especially as the world economy clams up.

Perhaps there is more behind it all, like a prejudice or xenophobia against foreigners in Costa Rica, maybe a bit of jealousy disguised as patriotism that foreigners, though they often offer more to Costa Rica than Ticos themselves, need to be held back, or better, forced to leave Costa Rica by imposing sudden and unreasonable new financial requirements on them. Foreigners aren’t afraid to take a chance and make something positive happen that often benefits Costa Rica. Foreigners take the time, and put out the elbow grease to plant lovely gardens around their homes, and pick up litter, and attempt to recycle and make the country more attractive.

Perhaps the macho law makers (who are in the vast majority) are upset that many pretty young Ticas openly express they can’t deal anymore with the lies from their unfaithful, dead-beat Tico husbands and boyfriends, and prefer an older stable (foreign) man with the finances and basic integrity to support their families. Would this have anything to do with it?

After the sudden government closure of the twenty year, half billion dollar Villalobos Brothers high interest investment company in 2002, many of the 6000 foreigners that lost their principal investments plus monthly interest payments, needed to leave Costa Rica, moving back into their children’s basement. Countless Costa Rican women and children who had grown accustomed to the support, now found themselves penniless and needing to survive in a welfareless society. I remember mothers and young children being forced to move to dangerous slums, the only residence they could afford, and students having to quit school because of the cost of bus transportation, uniforms and supplies. And because of a lack of opportunities, many mothers had to enter or re-enter prostitution.

The devastation caused by an over-zealous, maybe xenophobic government reaction, was anything but pretty. One of the six thousand investors, a French Canadian, was being investigated for laundering a relatively small amount of drug money by the RCMP, so the Costa Rican government closed the whole thing down, but giving the now fugitive ‘Christian’ director a chance to absconded with 99% of the money, now hidden off-shore. Well done!

Anyway, the negative impact of these proposed immigration laws will be of far greater magnitude than the results of the Villalobos closure. These laws will hurt many Costa Ricans financially, as one government director estimated 70% (between 40,000 and 50,000) of existing pensionados and rentistas will be unable to provide evidence of such a high income when they apply to renew their residency. If only 30% of the existing pensionados and rentistas remain, eight or ten times more Ticas and their kids who now depend on a foreigner for support, will needlessly suffer. Income to many businesses that count on serving and selling to foreigners will be reduced considerably. And the tax revenue generated by foreigners will fall precipitously.

I agree that foreigners who severely break the laws in Costa Rica, or become a strain on a society that has trouble looking after its own, should be made to leave, one strike and you are out, go home, Costa Rica can’t afford you. But to needlessly and artificially raise the financial requirements beyond the ability of some forty or fifty thousand foreign residents peacefully and productively living here is unreasonable, not very well thought out and hints of jealousy, prejudicism and/or xenophobia.

3 thoughts on “What is really behind the immigration law proposals?

  1. Crystal Shores says:

    Thanks for this interesting and informative blog….
    I have to ask, with all the changes to America, and world-wide, how has Costa Rica’s economy doing, have you seen a change in tourism, and how has the new immigra.-law effected your country thus far?

    It saddens me to think that after all the years we put into planning our retirement, we still don’t make enough to live here!
    It’s a good pension, but we’ll never get a chance to re-do our investments, or savings now..and our union is not giving cost of living increases anymore….
    I guess we’ll just have to return to CR as visitors and contribute to the CR economy and it’s beautiful people this way.
    God Bless You and Yours, Cshores

  2. Eric says:

    I couldn’t agree more, a society from post-Columbus times that learned to survive on their own merits and hard work, little endenturing of indigenous slaves, huge coffee processing plant owners mixing with the small plantation owners, even the first governor had to tend his own garden, developing a society with a continum of classes, from dirt poor yet surviving to unbelieveably wealthy and everything in between, and now this, a clear class division! The masses will be envious and more desparate while the rich foreigners and the few rich Ticos will feel uncomfortable, and be at risk of crime including kidnapping, as their economic position places them distinctively higher than the average struggling Tico. There is just no intelligent thought going into this plan, at a time when any foreign capital influx should be a very welcome thing. To me it is a perfect example of the Peter Principle, where people in power have risen to their level of incompetence.

  3. Trisha Graf says:

    By requiring a minimum income level for pensionados that is almost three times the annual per capita Tico income, it seems Costa Rica–which historically wanted to create a strong middle class and homogenize the cream, rather than see it float on top of society–would now like to guarantee that whatever immigrants CAN attain this favored status will create a new entitled class, layered on top of the locals. Just what the country never wanted. How unfortunate. Those who were content to live peacefully amidst their Tico neighbors will be forced to leave, causing financial devastation, to say nothing of international ill will. In will come those who will view the locals as merely a source of cheap labor, heralding a trend toward the sort of feudalistic societies too long enjoyed by Costa Rica’s neighbors. Hardly an admirable template. What a pity. What next, a military junta?

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