Costa Rica, a tiny Central American nation nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, is an open and friendly country, with immigration policies to match. We at Walker Gates Vela began investigating Costa Rica’s asylum system in July of 2018, out of desperation to find a safe place for some of our Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, and Mexican clients whose lives were in danger in their home countries, but whose asylum claims in the USA were denied. What we have discovered is a country that may present a viable option for many of our clients who are facing deportation from the United States because of the harsh and unworkable conditions within the current United States asylum system. If you are facing deportation from the USA but cannot safely return to your home country, here are some of the most important points to know about Costa Rica:
⦁ Costa Rica is generally approving asylum claims based on gang violence, cartel violence, and domestic violence. This is very different than the USA. If you are unsafe in your home country because of gangs, cartels, or a violent partner relationship, you have a good chance of being approved for asylum in Costa Rica.
⦁ Most people in the world do not need a visa to go to Costa Rica. This means that, if you wish to go to Costa Rica, there is no application to fill out, there is no fee to pay, there is no chance you’ll be disallowed from entering the country in a safe, orderly, and lawful manner. So long as you have a passport from your home country with at least six months of validity, you can just buy a plane ticket and go. The one important exception to this rule is for Nicaraguans, who do need a visa. But for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, and many others, the doors to Costa Rica are open. Check out the website of the Costa Rican Embassy in the USA to verify whether individuals from your country require a visa to enter Costa Rica. You can access that information ⦁ here.
⦁ Costa Rica’s asylum system is non-adversarial. This means that, unlike in immigration court in the USA, there is no government attorney fighting to keep you out of the country and trying to convince a judge to deny your case. Applicants for asylum present their case with documents and an interview with an asylum officer. If the asylum officer does not approve your case, you can present your documents to a judge, but you do not have to testify in court.
⦁ Costa Rica does not deport anyone who seeks asylum – even if their claim is denied. That’s right. Costa Rica’s government protects asylum seekers even if they don’t approve their case. This is to ensure that no person is ever sent back to a situation where their human rights could be violated. If your case is denied, you are encouraged to find another way to legalize your immigration status in Costa Rica, which is possible through a spouse, a child born in Costa Rica, or an employer, to name a few.
⦁ Costa Rica does not detain asylum seekers or otherwise criminalize them. There is no detention, no family separation, no bonds to pay, no monitoring by deportation officers, etc.
⦁ There are two offices in Costa Rica where applications for asylum are processed. One is in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. The other is in Upala, a small town in the north of the country closer to the Nicaraguan border. If you apply for asylum in San Jose, your application will likely take about a year to process. If you apply in Upala, where there are many fewer cases, your case can be heard and concluded within a few weeks.
⦁ If you file an application for asylum, you can request work authorization three months later. Once you have work authorization, you can enter the Costa Rican workforce, where employment laws protect your rights to minimum wage and medical insurance.
⦁There are dozens of organizations in Costa Rica that assist asylum seekers and refugees with a variety of services. ⦁ Cenderos is one such organization with offices in San Jose and Upala. At Cenderos, attorneys assist with preparation of applications, therapists conduct groups to assist with recovery from trauma, and social workers help with finding housing, employment, accessing public schools and medical care. There is a network of NGOs in the country offering these types of services, though most of these are located in San Jose.
⦁Costa Rica has no military and guns are not allowed. It is one of the safest countries in the world for women.
⦁Costa Rica’s public schools are open for the children of asylum seekers. Lawful immigration status is not required to attend Costa Rica’s public schools.
The challenges of seeking asylum in Costa Rica revolve around finding work, housing, and access to medical care while getting established. Asylum seekers cannot work lawfully for the first three months they are in Costa Rica, so they often end up in low-paying jobs that do not offer medical benefits. In San Jose, there are more services available for asylum seekers, but the traffic is horrible, and the crime rate and cost of living are higher than in other parts of the country. However, if a person’s asylum case is approved, they can then access the state-run health care system, and with work authorization, they are able to seek employment from any legitimate business in the country’s growing economy.
In short, while Costa Rica is not a utopia, it is a warm and welcoming country with potential to provide haven for those who truly need and deserve it. If you are facing deportation from the USA and would like additional information about seeking asylum in Costa Rica, please contact us at (512) 633-1785 or [email protected]