Immigration Update: June 2017
Of particular note, in this immigration update is that the Friendly Nations visa is available to immigrants from Europe, North America and other countries listed. There have been no major changes in the requirements for work permits under Friendly Nations. We have been hearing a lot in the news regarding the change to 90 tourist permits for citizens of Venezuela, Colombia & Nicaragua, but the updates at immigration do not affect European or North American citizens.
In recent years, Panama has been careful with immigration policies, to not be seen as favoring or discriminating against a particular nationality. Nevertheless, the current climate in the region is pushing a wave of immigrants into Panama. And there has been a “push back” against this wave. Panama is not, obviously, the only country where refugees and illegal immigrants are being rejected. Many European nations have made it clear that they are not willing to welcome many newcomers, despite obvious crises pushing the waves of refugees and immigrants to seek safe havens.
The work permit tied to the Friendly Nations visa is very simple to apply for. After applying for immigration status, it is necessary to apply separately to the Ministry of Labour for this permit. The requirements to be met at the Ministry of Labour are:
- Power of attorney (to the lawyer) and application
- Certified copy of the immigration resolution, granting residency
- Immigration Status certification
- Certified copy of the immigration card – Permanent residency
- 4 passport photos
Joan Villanueva is available for more information regarding this application process.
Back in 2016 and in early 2017, there was a lot of debate on the issue of work permits. Panamanians complained that too many work permits being granted to foreigners under the friendly nations visa program. The complaints were based on the fact that Friendly Nations work permits appeared to bypass the rules on 10% rules (no more than 10% of employees in a company should be foreigners) or 15% for certain professions or executives. See, for example:
- Panamá: Cambiarían reglas de permisos de trabajo
- Restringen permisos de trabajo de países amigos y profesional extranjero en Panamá (comunicado)
- In particular, this latter article indicated that the 10% rule would have to be complied with even in the event that the applicant was applying under the friendly nations visa.
However, this has not be put into effect so far.
Technology and systemization is being implemented in many parts of our lives, and Panama’s immigration department is finally trying to catch up with their new online application system. They expect that this new system (Migración en Línea) will eliminate bottle-necks and long waits. Applicants may remember arriving at immigration at 5.00 a.m. to get a number for the queue. It will also allow their staff to work more on reviewing the paperwork rather than receiving the documents. Over time the immigration office will be adding to the breadth of applications which can be made online.
Immigration office press release:
In a press release on April 5, 2017, they advised that as of the 15th of April, 2017, it is no longer possible to register (for the first time as a foreigner in Panama) in person at the immigration department (even with a lawyer). Applicants must now complete the application online and submit the documentation electronically. The applicant pays at Immigration still, but it is anticipated that eventually they will move towards an electronic payment system. When rolling out the new system, the immigration office indicated that the steps to follow for registration were:
- complete online registration
- pay at the immigration office
- present the payment receipt at “certifications” and complete the document verification
- you will receive an email update of the status.
As might be expected with any new system, it has not worked perfectly these first few weeks. It has been our experience that we have to then take in the same paperwork that we submitted online, together with the reference number that the system provided us with, and have them complete the registration manually (in person) and not simply verify the documentation. However, we expect that these glitches will eventually be worked out, and then we will, no doubt, find glitches with the new services as they are rolled out. The immigration department is currently announcing (through Facebook & Twitter) that it will be possible to present visa and residency requests through the online system as of the 1st of June, 2017.
This new system already permits the following to be done online:
- status of naturalization applications (only while in the immigration department, not once passed to the Ministry of Government)
- status of visa and authorized visa applications
We will continue to provide updates regarding this system, until it is fully implemented and working smoothly.
For more information, please contact Joan Villanueva.