Panama tightens immigration rules for expats

Published:  27 Apr at 6 PM
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The popular retirement destination of Panama may not be so welcoming in the future, as its government has tightened immigration rules in order to control foreign access to the country.

According to local media reports, the Panamanian immigration authority is tightening a number of rules and bringing in new laws relating to foreigners who are not legal residents in the country. According to the Servicio Nacional de Migracion (SNM), foreigners on tourist visas have been abusing the privilege by leaving the country for a few days and returning as a means to renew their tourist visas.

A statement by the SNM, published last week, claimed such actions were being seen as an abuse of Panama’s hospitality to visitors, with the practice disallowed in the future. The statement said the country welcomes tourists, but would-be residents must abide by its rules. Panamanian immigration officers will now carefully examine all foreign passports in order to detect any pattern of leaving and entering suggesting multiple renewals of the holder’s tourist status.

Stricter enforcement will also include investigations into whether those entering as tourists own properties in the country. In addition, the authority is planning to review the laws governing legal residency, with changes to be made if necessary. Citizens of the USA, Canada and a number of European states are expected to be most affected by the changes.

Immigration expert Carl Emmers believes much of the increased vigilance is due to concerns over terrorism, although several Latin American countries are now cracking down on expats who use local services without paying. Emmers points out that, for many years, Latin American countries have been tolerant of high levels on informality as regards visas, with the practice of regularly renewing tourist visas widespread but now under fire by governments.

Immigration authorities are also becoming concerned about the number of foreigners arriving after fleeing their home countries due to legal problems.
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