The Ley General de Migración y Extranjería (Immigration Law) establishes a fine of US$100 for each month a foreigner overstays their visa period in Costa Rica.

However, the collection of the fine was never implemented from the getgo in 2014 and continues currently suspended.

Policia de Migracion at work

But why?

According to Daguer Hernández, acting director of immigration (on December 12), responding to the question put by legislator Gustavo Viales, among the reasons for not implementing the fine is the lack of human resources and the immigration service not fully ready for it.

Despite admitting that the non-payment “means an unjustified permissibility and a breach of the obligations that the legal order imposes on foreigners and this government”, Hernández justifies the suspension in that the eventual collection of the fine could lead to legal challenges, such as filings of habeas corpus (Recursos de Amparo in Spanish) by any foreigner who considers that, with the imposition of the fine in question, their right to free movement is violated.

“The Amparo is a right of people who may feel their economic rights or their human rights or equality between nationals and foreigners, and their right to non-discrimination among others, have been violated,” says the Hernández letter to the legislator.

Hernandez adds that there could also be proceedings filed before the Contentious-Administrative Tribunal, therefore, he affirms that, first, the immigration service needs to have perfected all the technological aspects necessary before it starts with the collection of the fine.

For the time being the fine is suspended to April 2019 based on government decree 41.033-MGP.

However, legislator Viales has sent a letter to the Ministro de la Presidencia (Chief of Staff) Rodolfo Piza not to request another extension come April 2019, since in his opinion it encourages non-compliance with the law by foreigners in the country.

“In virtue of the foregoing, I request you to inform the actions that the Casa Presidencial is executing so that the Law has been applied for several years and that to date, it is still not obeyed by the Executive Power,” says the letter to Piza sent on December 20.

Carla Stefaniak murder a motivation

Viales admits his call for compliance (collection of the fine) arose as a result of what happened to Carla Stefaniak, the American-Venezuelan tourist allegedly murdered by a Nicaraguan in the country illegally.

In his opinion, Viales says “there are very weak migration controls that must be corrected, as well as a true application of the current law by the authorities”.

Immigration Director Raquel Vargas, during her participation in the Security and Drug Trafficking Commission (Comisión de Seguridad y Narcotráfico) earlier this month, said that since her start as immigration director on May 8, approximately 1,000 Nicaraguan nationals have been deported.

Current immigration director, Raquel Vargas

That is on average three people a day for a small immigration police force of fewer than 500 officials countrywide. Vargas pointed to the need to strengthen this police force for next year.

She only provided numbers of deported Nicaraguan migrants.

“We hope cases like Carla’s (Stefaniak) do not happen again, that’s our goal,” said Vargas.

For his part, the Minister of Security, Michael Soto pleads for the country to define its immigration policy, while legislator Enrique Sánchez is clear that, if it happens, it must be progressive in terms of migrants’ rights.

Soto does not blame migratory controls for the two murders of Stefaniak and Arantxa Gutierrez and other crimes in the country committed by foreigners.

In the case of Stefaniak earlier this month in Escazu and Gutierrez in August in Tortuguero, the real cause is machismo and violence against women and not whether they are illegal in the country.

“In this particular case, there are 2 femicides (Arantxa Gutiérrez and Carla Stefaniak) presumably killed at the hands of foreigners, they are not the majority of those that occur, the cause is machismo and not immigration, nor the migratory condition of the people, let’s not to turn it into this cause because it is not, responsible is machismo and violence against women,” he said.

Data from the Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice) indicate that foreigner prisoners in the country account for only 11% of the total prison population.


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