President Rafael Correa is proposing a new law that would drastically reduce the number of visa categories and make all immigrants legal in Ecuador.
Ecuador has become popular destination for foreigners and has Latin America’s largest refugee population, largely due to the conflict in neighboring Colombia. The country also hosts large groups of Cubans, Peruvians and Venezuelans, and ranks high as a destination of choice for North American expats.
Correa’s plan would specifically support asylum-seekers and stateless people. In his weekly television address last Saturday, Correa said, “The right to migrate is guaranteed in the new rules. No human being will be considered illegal.”
According to Correa, the legislation will simplify and reduce the number of visas that foreigners need. The current law, which has been in place since 1979, has 18 different categories of visas. His proposal will reduce those to four. The new legislation will also make changes to rules governing identity documents for foreigners, including passports.
Correa offered no details about the new visa classes and a Cuenca attorney said that officials in the Quito immigration office had received no information about the changes as of Thursday morning. The attorney said she did not think the changes would affect expats since the proposal is to make immigration easier, not more difficult.
The government plan will also introduce new programs to integrate foreigners into day-to-day Ecuadorian life.
Correa is no stranger to changes in immigration policy. In 2008, he said “We are in the middle of a campaign to dismantle this invention of the 20th century of passports and visas.”
Domestically, Correa has found himself caught in the dilemma of wanting to uphold his image of being a promoter and defender of human and migrants’ rights and, at the same time, having to respond to security concerns voiced by political opponents and the media. Internationally, countries have exerted diplomatic pressure on Ecuador to reinstate visas based on fears of money laundering, terrorism and international crime.
In 2014, in a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Correa asked that Spain eliminate the visa requirement for Ecuadorian visitors. Correa told Rajoy that he objected to the fact that Spain and the European Union (EU) have a bilateral agreement with Peru and Colombia based on free trade agreements, that allows citizens of those countries to enter Spain using only their passports.
Earlier this year, Correa signed with President Xi Jinping of China an agreement establishing the mutual elimination of tourism visas.