Thursday, September 20, 2007

Panama Immigration director faces the music

The new director of Immigration Clovis Sinisterra held a September 19 meeting with attorneys and frequent users of visa services. The official version of the meeting in says that about 100 people attended.

Among the many revealing situations disclosed by those attending:

- Visas applied for from Bocas are procesed with delay,
- People attending the Panama office must get a ticket at 6AM, which means applicants flying in from out of town after 10AM may have to come another day,
- Investor Visas are denied because companies have non-par value shares, even if a CPA affidavit and a tax return confirms that the company has a paid-in capital above US$40K,
- Requirements in are always outdated, which puts attorneys on the spot regularly because clients rely on advice which will be outdated by the time foreign documents are authenticated,
- A lack of staff is evident, with photographs stopping when the single official taking pctures is out for lunch,
- Multiple complaints about the lack of transparency in the Authorized Visas for Far East and Indian applicants. There is no clear requirement to prove the solvency of Authorized Visas, so applications by billionaires from those regions may be rejected,
- Legal Counsel at Immigration is never in to attend queries of attorneys,
- Philipinos applying for Investor Visa have their application copy stamped but never get a 3-month card, being subject to arrest and deportation,
- Documents filed from the David office are lost,
- Applicants from the David office are stuck with blue cardboard cards for months, without receiving their final visa,
- Naturalization applications were paralized because they were addressed to "Señor Ministro" (male) when a woman was appointed as Minister,
- Attorneys complained that Authorized Visas which were stuck for months became "unstuck" after the applicant spoke to "a friend of the President".
- A definitive residence visa holder was arrested for 3 months because his visa approval was not sent on time to the Electoral Tribunal for the "E-" cedula to be issued,
- During a change of residence status, it can take 5 months to take the original wedding and birth certificates from one application to another,

The Director himself confessed that he has been watching the situation of the numbered tickets at 6AM and considered this brings the urgency of a new building which has been promised by the Administration from last year. He pointed out the Authorized Visas are rejected by the National Security Council at the Presidency, not by Immigration. He also confirmed that because of several Visa Suppression Agreements signed by Panama, tourists from Japan and some European Union countries can stay with a tourist visa for 90 days, despite the 30 day reduction made by the Legislature.

Kudos to the director for holding the meeting. Now let's hope that work gets done at the Cabinet level for the actual changes required.

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