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New immigration law: Devil is in the details but expats should count their blessings

By Stephen Ellis

Reading the reactions on social media — including those in the comments section on this website — to the new immigration law passed last week by the National Assembly, I am struck by two things.

First, a lot of readers have never taken a civics class or, if they did, didn’t pay close attention.

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Second, many expats and foreign visitors have no idea how good they have it in Ecuador; in general, the new immigration law is very good for foreigners.

Back to the civics class. Just as laws flesh out the intentions of a country’s constitution, rules provide the details that directly affect those governed by them. A law, such as an immigration law, provides the framework, the bureaucrats fill in the blanks.

Ecuador expats have it good.

As an example, your right as a foreigner to become a resident of Ecuador is defined in the law but whether the government requires you to provide a police report or a health certificate when you apply is decided by rule. Rules also govern such issues as the amount of time a resident can be out of the country and retain residency.

Ever heard the saying, “The devil is in the details”? In the U.S., I spent many years as a legislative bill drafter and rule writer so I was on intimate terms with the devil.

Since Ecuador’s immigration law takes immediate effect after it is signed by president and added to the registry of laws, it will use most of the rules of the old law until new ones can be rewritten. Many of the old ones will remain, but many more will be changed.

If your visa lawyer tells you that nothing will change in the new law — and I have heard of several who are advising foreigners thusly — don’t believe it! They are either lazy, ignorant, or have not taken an Ecuadorian civics class. There are several major changes in the law, including the amount of time visitors can stay in the country, visa classifications, and reasons foreigners can be deported. There are also requirements that foreigners have health insurance, although these are confusing at this point. More important, however, are the coming rule changes.

The bottom line is that many rules will change and no one, at this point, can predict which ones and how they will change. Foreigners who are clamoring for immediate answers to immigration questions will have to chill. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The process will take a while.

The good news is that the intent of the new legislation is to make things easier for foreigners, both visitors and residents. I predict that the devil will be friendly in this case.

To my second point.

Ecuador may well be the easiest, least expensive country to immigrate to in the world. I should qualify that by adding “…that you would consider living in.” I understand that the immigration threshold may be lower in Bangladesh, El Salvador, and Eritrea.

Having lived in three countries and studied the immigration rules for a dozen or so others, I have to say that getting a visa in Ecuador is a relative breeze here. When I hear foreigners bellyaching about how hard it is to follow Ecuadorian rules, or how incompetent the immigration officials are, or how hard it is to get straight answers, I know I am listening to someone who hasn’t spent much time out of Kansas … and who, definitely, has not lived in France.

When I say the process is a breeze in Ecuador, I’m being comparative of course. I scream and holler as much as the next guy at the damned bureaucracy but I keep it private (except from my all-suffering Ecuadorian wife) and understand that my irritation is my problem, not someone else’s.

And if you think it’s tough on us poor gringos, you should try being an Ecuadorian dealing with the U.S. immigration process. You would never complain again — at least about immigration.

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Stephen Ellis is a former CPA, state legislative staff director, and newspaper columnist from Arizona. He has lived overseas for 21 years and currently lives in Cuenca.