According to our man in Quito, it will be a while before there’s real clarity to Ecuador’s new immigration law. And that lack of clarity will probably continue well after the law takes effect, probably in a few weeks.
Jorge Duarte, who works with half a dozen Cuenca and Quito immigration attorneys, has been feverishly working his government sources to answer questions for his clients. “These attorneys work with foreigners applying for visas and citizenship and they (the foreigners) are desperate to know how the changes will affect them,” Jorge says.
Duarte agrees with Cuenca expat Stephen Ellis who wrote Monday that the “devil is in the details” and that the rule-writing process, which has a direct impact on foreigners, has just begun (To read Ellis’ column, click here). “Many of the rules of the old law will be carried over to the new one but it will take weeks, maybe months, before we know all the details about new parts of the law,” Jorge says. “This is what I am advising my clients.”
Here is what Jorge tells me.
The new law has passed the National Assembly and is waiting for President Correa’s signature. Despite speculation to the contrary, says Jorge, Correa will sign the bill although he may make minor changes. Once it is signed, the law will be entered into the national registry and will take effect.
Generally speaking, the new law is very good for foreigners, Jorge says. “Correa believes in the idea of international citizenship and the new law codifies this in Ecuador. In almost all its parts, the law makes it easier for foreigners to visit and stay in Ecuador. The most obvious example of this is the change to allow tourists to stay 180 days in the country instead of just 90.”
According to Jorge’s sources, those who are already permanent residents will not be directly affected by the new law; they are, in effect, grandfathered. He has also been told that visa applications currently in process, including those for residency, will continue under old rules after the new law takes effect, although he admits he is less sure about this.
Even among immigration officials, he says, there is confusion on several aspects of the new law. A major one is the requirement that tourists have health insurance when they enter the country. “This was not intended for foreigners who are visiting Ecuador for a week or two,” Jorge says. “Obviously, they will not be turned away at the airport. The intention was to require those who are staying for longer periods to have insurance coverage so that they do not become a burden to the country. This remains to be resolved.”
Jorge thinks the new temporary residency category makes sense. “This covers people like foreign students, teachers, religious workers, researchers, technical and business professionals who are here for a fixed period of time and don’t intend to become permanent residents. It’s also logical for people who want to be permanent residents. The immigration office believes that 30% to 50% of foreigners who become permanent residents leave the country within two years so this provides a trial period to determine if the applicants are really cut out to be expats.”
Jorge’s advice? Hurry up and wait. And … don’t worry too much.
The Chinese are coming!
It’s just a trickle at this point, but Cuenca is attracting a growing number of new Chinese expats. In fact, there is at least one Chinese facilitator, Sue, providing relocation services to Chinese arrivals.
Sue says that it’s important to distinguish the new Chinese expats from those who have been in Ecuador for generations. “There were already 200 to 250 Chinese who have lived in Cuenca for many years,” she says. “Like in the U.S., their families came here to work on the railroad more than a 100 years ago. Today, they have the stores and restaurants you see all over Cuenca.
Sue says the new Chinese so far number about 100. “China and Ecuador are on friendly terms and I expect many more Chinese to relocate here.”