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A Rough Start to 2020 at the Immigration Department

In October of last year, we were happy to see that the Immigration Department was taking certain steps to simplify the Residency process. However, disappointingly, but not surprisingly, January and February 2020 have proven to

A Rough Start to 2020 at the Immigration Department

In October of last year, we were happy to see that the Immigration Department was taking certain steps to simplify the Residency process. However, disappointingly, but not surprisingly, January and February 2020 have proven to be very complicated months.

Perhaps it has been bad luck, but these past few weeks have been challenging. We have been faced with tremendous inconsistencies and impossible requirements that have elevated our levels of frustration.

Last Wednesday, we met with the Directors of Immigration to discuss various matters that have been tricky to deal with. Here is a summary of the main points we discussed:

  • Immigration’s Friday Schedule: Back in 2019, Immigration used to close the last Friday of every month. Somebody filed a complaint in court stating that the Immigration Department is tremendously backlogged and that there was no reason for them to close on Fridays. The courts sided with the complaint which forced Immigration to open every Friday. Nonetheless, during the past few days if you called to schedule an appointment at Immigration for any given Friday, the answer was invariably “no.” The Director admitted that this was a mistake and should be rectified.
  • An Error Regarding Renewal/Permanent Residency Procedures: We recently had a client who received the approval for his Permanent Residency. The approval was received in November. As with any approval, the client had 90 days to secure his new DIMEX. We visited Immigration in January to get him documented and the Immigration Officer refused to proceed stating that it was “too early.”

When asked what he meant, he said that since the client’s Temporary Residency DIMEX card didn’t expire until May, it was too early for him to renew as one can only renew a DIMEX card three months before of the expiration date.

We explained to him that this was not a renewal, but the procurement of a new DIMEX or cédula as a Permanent Resident and that the 90 days mentioned on the approval resolution of the Permanent Residency were almost up. The Officer insisted on his position and refused to help our client. Again, the Director admitted that this was a mistake.

  • Impossible Background Check Requirements: Perhaps the main point of discussion during our conversation was the current situation regarding background checks. For those of you who are not aware, years ago Immigration used to accept local background checks vs. federal background checks. For example, a U.S. national could file his or her Residency application with a Florida background check. It has been awhile since Immigration had decided that local background checks would not be accepted, but it wasn’t until late October 2019 that Immigration reminded people through a decree (circular) that only fingerprint based, nation-wide search background checks would be accepted. This means the FBI background for U.S. nationals and the RCMP for Canadians.

What is our issue with this particular requirement? While we agree that only federal background checks should be filed, Immigration is now asking US nationals to provide a federal document that specifically states that it includes information from the “NCIC National Crime Information Center, interstate identification index o triple III.” FBI reports have certain pre-set language that we simply cannot change. It is absurd to believe that the FBI will provide custom-made FBI reports for U.S. nationals applying for Residency in Costa Rica.

The day of the meeting we explained to the Director that we had done our research, had documents from the FBI, including a lengthy phone conversation with one FBI employee which was duly transcribed and notarized that explained that the basis of the FBI check is the NCIC database and that the language on the FBI cannot be altered. In addition, an NCIC background check does not even exist. Our contention is that Immigration is basically imposing an impossible requirement for new applicants due to a misconception and misunderstanding of what an FBI report is. We are in the process of filing a document with our findings which include the call transcript, email confirmations, etc. and explaining to Immigration that it is impossible to obtain the document which they have described. In the meantime, only FBI reports can be filed.

  • More Background Check Issues: Another issue we raised was that the decree was issued in October 2019 and it stated that applicants who have a record, would be obliged to file the duly apostilled/legalized and recently issued court or judicial documents explaining the status of each item, arrest, or issue on their background check. As such, if an applicant has three arrests on their FBI background check, then they will need court or judicial documents that clarify the status of each of those cases. In other words, Immigration wants to know if those cases were dismissed, closed, taken to court, if the applicant did jail time, completed community service, paid a fine, etc. They basically need documents that are perfectly clear on the status of each matter.

However, and even though we have an official letter from Immigration stating that this decree cannot be applied retroactively to on-going applications filed months prior to October 2019, they have been asking for documents cited on such a decree for old processes, such as these court or judicial files. Funnily enough, in the same week, we may receive the approval resolution for a client who has an ample record and an exigency for a client who has a DUI asking for his/her court documents. On this point, Immigration insists this is a matter of national security and that they have the right to do this. Our position is that this is another obstacle to fight against and that we fear that all these discretionary actions violate the principle of legal certainty. We will continue to abide by the law, court rulings and legal principles to fight for what we believe is an unfair approach to case analysis.

In summary, it has not been easy. We are doing everything we can to settle certain outstanding issues such as the NCIC situation and we will continue to challenge what is, by law, incorrect. However, and even if stressful, expats should understand that our Immigration Department has its shortcomings which at times make it difficult to navigate through the Residency process. Hopefully, in the near future our Immigration Department will be blessed with much better technology and much more needed staff that will help them become faster and more precise. Until then, the struggle continues.



Attorney with more than 10 years of experience in customer service, team management and team building at an international level. Has worked immigration cases in various countries, including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama.

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  • Jeffrey Zamora February 25, 2020

    Great article! I hope immigration does receive much needed resources and improvement in their management and legal department!

  • Tiffany W. October 9, 2020

    Is there an update on the impossible background check requirement? My application has been in limbo because I have no idea how to move forward at this point.