Despite rumors to the contrary, the laws and major policies of the Ecuadorian immigration office relating to foreigners have not changed, according to an immigration expert. "Rules and interpretations change day to day and from one director to the next, but this has always been the case," says Ron VanDercreek, a retired Quito attorney who worked for more than 20 years with Ecuadorian immigation officials. "The actual laws have not changed and, as far as I know, there haven't been any 'get the gringo' edicts issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affair."
VanDercreek continued: "Another story from the rumor mill is that the proposed constitution puts restrictions on residency and property ownership by foreigners. There is no truth to this either."
A Canadian native and Ecuadorian resident, VanDercreek says he hears frequently from foreign residents, or foreigners seeking visas, that the laws have changed. "What you are dealing with is the same issues you deal with in any bureacracy — different offices and different people looking at the same regs and rules differently. Unfortunately, innocent people get caught in the cross-fire. This is a side affect of bureacracies in this country and everywhere else."
In recent months, according to VanDercreek, most of the complaints he hears involve requirements for police reports, medical statements and confusion about the need for visas issued by Ecuadorian consulates out of the country. Most of the laws governing the immigration of foreigners to Ecuador were written in the 1980s, he says. "Requirements such as the law enforcement and health reports have been on the books for years. Sometimes they are enforced and sometimes they aren't, depending on the times and the personalities."
Grace Velastegui and Nelson Idrovo, Cuenca attorneys who handle visa applications for foreigners, agree with VanDercreek. "I understand that the process is confusing and frustrating," says Velastegui. "We are in the position of advising our clients about what the law says but, at the same time, we must also explain that certain rules are applied differently depending on each case."
According to Velastegui, a recent source of frustration for residency seekers concerns the question of whether a foreigner entering Ecuador with the intention of staying needs a tourist, or 12-IX visa. Within the space of one week in early August, the rule was applied, not applied, then applied again, according to Velastagui. "This requirement has been the law for many years but it has not always been used. Now we are told, it will be applied consistently so I am advising my clients to get the 12-IX visa before they leave their home countries." An August 10 memo from immigration division director Deborah Salgado advised all immigration officials to enforce the law.
Attorney VanDercreek suggests that foreigners consider the plight of Ecuadorians seeking residency in North America if they think they have it bad. "A friend from Nova Scotia who is moving to Quito complained last month that it took him six months to get his papers. I told him about an Ecuadorian lawyer at my old firm who is trying to move to Montreal to be with his kids. The guy's been doing paperwork for four years and there's no end in sight."
VanDercreek blames much of frustration among foreigners on information available on the Internet. "Today, you have all these chat rooms and forums and blogs spreading mostly bad information. Add to this, big gringo egos and impatience and you have a problem. Here's a bunch of folks with what amounts to a 3-year-old's comprehension of the language and culture who think they know it all. What do I tell them? I say, relax … and don't believe everything you read on the Internet."