A bill introduced Thursday in Ecuador’s National Assembly will change the way Ecuador handles immigration issues, providing special protection for citizens living outside the country as well as for immigrants from other countries coming into Ecuador. The legislation’s sponsors say it is the first of its kind in the world.
According to assemblyman Esteban Melo, who represents Ecuadorians living overseas, the bill brings the country’s official immigration policies in line with the national constitution adopted in 2008.
Members of the National Assembly representing Ecuadorians abroad, formally presented their bill to the president of the assembly, Gabriela Rivadeneira, on Thursday.
The Organic Law for Human Mobility, as it is called, is designed to respect the principle of universal citizenship and the right of people to migrate, according to Melo.
Although new rules are yet to be written, the legislation will streamline the process for foreigners wanting to move to Ecuador. In May, President Rafael Correa said that the number of visas will be reduced for those seeking residency status in Ecuador. “Now, it is confusing, with too many requirements and visas, and we need to bring this in line with our mission of being an open country,” he said.
The bill contains provisions to specifically address the particular needs of refugees and victims of human trafficking. Ecuador has the largest population of refugees from other countries in the Americas, more than 200,000, the majority of them fleeing the civil war in Colombia.
“For the first time, eleven categories of vulnerability of migrants have identified and mechanisms of care and protection are established,” said lawmaker Ximena Peña. “We are officially recognizing Article 40 of our constitution.”
Article 40 specifies, “The right to migrate of persons is recognized. No human being shall be identified or considered as illegal because of his/her migratory status,” as well as detailing a list of obligations of the government towards migrants.
In the past, Ecuador had been criticized by other countries, particularly the United States, for being too lax in its immigration policy and, according to Rivadeneira, the new legislation could bring new criticism.
“We are prepared for this,” she said. “Any time you break down barriers and chart a new course there will be those who disagree.”
According to Rivadeneira, there are more than two million Ecuadorians living outside the country. The bill contains measures to attend to the special needs of this population, particularly, those who are returning to the country after having lived abroad.
The bill will be subject to debate but is expected to be approved in late 2015 or early 2016. Correa has said he will sign it.