Panama: Permanent residence permit, including requirements and procedures for renewal; whether a person can lose permanent residence status, including requirements and procedures to re-obtain the status; rights of permanent residents (2017-September 2019) [PAN106335.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Types of Permanent Residence Permits

The website of the National Immigration Service (Servicio Nacional de Migración, SNM) lists the following types of permanent residence permits:

[translation]

For Economic Reasons:

  1. Investor in macro-businesses.
  2. Economic solvency for opening of a fixed installment deposit.
  3. Economic solvency for investment in real estate.
  4. Economic solvency through mixed investments (fixed installment deposit and real estate).

Special Policies:

  1. Private income retiree (rentista retirado).
  2. Retired pensioner.
  3. Forestry investor.
  4. Investor in the Panama Pacifico [special] economic area.
  5. Permit for Panama Pacifico area workers, within ten percent (10%) ordinary workers of a company, developer or operator.
  6. Investor in export processing zones.
  7. Investor in a call center for exports.
  8. Foreigner of the Fullbright Educational and Cultural Exchange Program.

Demographic Reasons:

  1. Family reunification as married to [a] national;
  2. Family reunification dependent on [a] permanent resident;
  3. Family reunification as a foreigner with Panamanian children;

By Special Laws:

  1. Treaty of Friendship, Business and Navigation between the Republic of Panama and the Republic of Italy;
  2. National foreigners from specific countries that maintain friendly, professional, economic and investment relations with the Republic of Panama;
  3. As a professional foreigner;
  4. As a diplomat and as members of international organizations of countries that maintain friendly diplomatic relations with the Republic of Panama, who have stopped providing their services in their respective positions. (Panama n.d.a)

The government procedures portal managed by the National Authority for Governmental Innovation (Autoridad Nacional para la Innovación Gubernamental) provides two further application categories:

  • [translation] "Permanent Residence Permit Application as a Refugee" (Panama n.d.b);
  • [translation] "Permanent Resident Permit Application as a permanent employee hired by the Panama Canal Authority" (Panama n.d.c).

2. Requirements and Procedures to Obtain Permanent Residence
2.1 Overview

Decree Law No. 3 (Decreto Ley nº 3) of 22 February 2008 provides the following:

[translation]

Article 28. Applications for a temporary or permanent residence permit presented to the National Immigration Service must be submitted through a legal representative, in accordance with the requirements established for each category of visa or permit, with the exception of the category that is requested from outside the country and the category applying to [residence for purposes of] education, and must meet the following common requirements:

  1. Copy of passport duly certified by a Panamanian notary, or accompanied by certification by the diplomatic mission accredited in the country or the appropriate authority in the place of issuance. When deemed necessary for security reasons, the National Immigration Service may require that the applicant certify the authenticity of the passport.
  2. Criminal record check certificate from the country of origin or residence. For countries in which such documents are not issued, applicants must provide certification from a diplomatic or consular official from their country of origin accredited in the Republic of Panama, indicating the nonexistence of such a certificate and an affidavit sworn before a notary public to the effect that they have no criminal record.
  3. Health certificate issued by an appropriate professional within the three months preceding submission of the application.
  4. Payment of two hundred and fifty Balboas [C$333] to the National Treasury as fees for applying for an immigration category, and eight hundred Balboas [C$1065] to the National Immigration Service as a repatriation deposit.
  5. Sworn affidavit of personal information.

All documentation coming from abroad must comply with the authentication requirements. (Panama 2008a)

Executive Decree No. 320 (Decreto Ley nº 320) of 8 August 2008, provides the following:

[translation]

Article 178. After a period of two (2) years, the applicant may opt for permanent residency, except in cases for which the current regulations, special laws or agreements establish different periods. (Panama 2008b)

CS Law Firm, which specializes in migration and corporate law and is located in Panama City (CS Law Firm n.d.), explains that

[i]n all immigration categories[,] the National Immigration Service grants a provisional ID at the moment of submitting the application with the documents and its validity is for six (06) months; then[,] such public entity will issue the permanent residency once the application has been approved. (CS Law Firm 19 June 2018)

Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP (BAL), a global law firm focused on immigration law (BAL n.d.), similarly states that temporary ID cards are issued once an application for temporary or permanent residence has been filed, and that these have a six month validity period (BAL 30 Jan. 2017).

In chapter IV on permanent residency, article 21 of Decree Law No. 3 provides the following information about provisional residency permits:

[translation]

Article 21. The National Migration Service will grant foreigners requesting the migratory categories established in this Chapter a two-year temporary residency permit, with the corresponding identification document. After said period, the interested persons may request residency if they comply with the requirements established by the law and the regulations. (Panama 2008a)

The website of the SNM provides the following instructions for renewing the provisional visa:

[translation]

  1. Full copy of passport duly verified by [a] Notary Public.
  2. Original provisional resident card.
  3. Criminal record of the country of origin or [residence]. If [the applicant] has resided in the Republic of Panama for more than two (2) years without having left the country, they may present the police record of the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (Dirección de Investigación Judicial).
  4. Health Certificate issued by a qualified Panamanian doctor.
  5. Affidavit of personal history, according to the form provided by the SNM.
  6. Three (3) passport-sized photos.
  7. Receipt of public services, lease or any other document that proves the address of the foreigner.
  8. Affidavit of responsibility or notarized letter of responsibility issued by a permanent resident or Panamanian national in favor of the foreigner, accompanied by a copy of the permanent resident card or personal identity card verified by [a] Notary Public. (Panama n.d.d)

2.2 "Friendly" Nations

An additional category of permanent residence is provided by Executive Decree No. 416 (Decreto Ejecutivo nº 416) of 13 June 2012, which states that foreigners of countries that maintain [translation] "friendly, professional, economic and investment relations" with Panama may apply for a permanent residence permit (Panama 2012, Art. 1). According to sources, the following countries are included in the list of "friendly" nations: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK, US, Uruguay (Candanedo Correa 24 Sept. 2018; Gray & Co. 12 Mar. 2018).

Executive Decree No. 416, provides the following instructions to apply:

[translation]

Article 3. Foreigners applying for this foreigner’s permit who are citizens of specific countries with which the Republic of Panama maintains friendly, professional, economic and investment relations, and whose purpose is to conduct economic or professional activities of any type, must comply with the requirements established under article 28 of Decree Law 3 dated 22 February 2008, and provide the following items:

  1. Three (3) passport-sized photographs.
  2. Documentation showing the reason for requesting permanent residency, depending on the economic or professional activity to be conducted.
  3. Proof of financial solvency of the applicant, which shall be proven by providing the following documents:
    1. Bank certificate or account statement for the past month, which shows a balance not below the mid four figures, or any other document that shows his or her income and that is deemed acceptable by the National Migration Service.
  4. A copy of the identity document or residency document from the applicant’s country[.]
  5. A letter of responsibility, if applicable[.]
  6. Certification proving kinship, in the event of having dependent persons. (Panama 2012)

A document on the website of Ortega Rivers & Abogados Asociados, a law firm whose director specializes in migration law (AbogadosPanama.net n.d.), explains that, in order to obtain this residency, the person can set up a new business or buy an existing one in Panama, or be hired by a Panamanian company, which requires possession of a work permit and registration in the [translation] "social security system" (Ortega Rivers & Abogados Asociados n.d.). According to the same source, a person can prove economic solvency by demonstrating that they have, in a Panamanian bank account, at least US$5,000 for the applicant and an additional US$2,000 for each dependent (Ortega Rivers & Abogados Asociados n.d.). Article 6 of Executive Decree No. 416 states that this type of residency application [translation] "…may only be filed with the National Migration Service" (Panama 2012).

2.3 Refugees and Migrants

Article 236 of Executive Decree No. 320 (Decreto Ejecutivo nº 320) of 8 August 2008 provides the following:

[translation]

Refugees and persons granted asylum who have had such legal status for more than ten years, and who declare their intention to live in the territory of the Republic of Panama may apply for a permanent residence permit, as established by Law 25 dated 9 May 2008. This is not applicable to persons who have renounced their status as refugee or person granted asylum, persons who have been excluded from such status or with respect to whom such status has ceased, or persons who have had said status revoked, in accordance with the provisions in force. (Panama 2008b)

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008 explains that this process "applies only to persons who have been recognized as refugees for more than 10 years and requires that the applications be submitted within two years [of the law coming into effect (Panama 2008c)]” (US 25 Feb. 2009).

However, according to the UN's core document on Panama, a report submitted by the state party "on the measures, including legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures, which they have adopted in order to achieve the enjoyment of the rights recognized in" UN treaties (UN 3 June 2009, para. 2), "persons who have held refugee status for at least three years can apply for permanent residency and a work permit that is valid for an indefinite period" (Panama 7 Aug. 2017, para. 455). The same source states that in 2010, the government initiated a "regularization" campaign called "'Panama, the Melting Pot'," with the aim of "legalizing the situation of foreigners who could prove that they had been living in Panama for two years" (Panama 7 Aug. 2017, para. 452-453). The source further states that

[o]nce the regularization procedure had been completed, they received a two-year residence permit, with the option of taking up permanent residence in Panama when it expired. Almost 8,000 permits were issued during the first regularization session. The majority of the recipients were from Colombia (3,572), Nicaragua (1,397) and China (400). (Panama 7 Aug. 2017, para. 453).

3. Loss of Permanent Residence and Procedures to Re-Obtain Status

Article 31 of Decree Law No. 3 provides the following:

[translation]

Article 31. The Director General of the National Immigration Service may cancel the stay or residence in the national territory of a non-resident foreigner or foreigner who is a temporary or permanent resident in any of the immigrations subcategories for the following reasons:

  1. Marrying a citizen for the sole purpose of obtaining residency.
  2. Undermining national security, public order, morality or public health, or violating the rights and freedoms of individuals.
  3. In the case of permanent residents, leaving the country for more than two years, unless such absence is justified and authorized by the Director of the National Immigration Service.
  4. Engaging in activities incompatible with those that served as the basis for granting the non-resident, temporary or permanent resident visa or permit.
  5. Submitting false statements and/or fraudulent or altered documentation.
  6. Offering, by him/herself or through another person, any type of promise or remuneration, or exerting any kind of pressure aimed at altering the will of officials of the National Immigration Service or diplomatic or consular officials for the purpose of obtaining the respective visa or permit.
  7. Conviction for committing an intentional crime or tax evasion.
  8. Cessation of the causes leading to approval of the respective visa or permit.
  9. Any other grounds established by law or regulations. (Panama 2008a)

Article 87 of Decree Law No. 3 also provides the following:

[translation]

Article 87. All foreigners who have acquired a migratory status as temporary or permanent resident in the national territory will have the obligation to inform the National Migration Service of any change of residency or changes to the information provided to the Foreigners’ Registry. Failure to comply with this obligation will be penalized with a fine of one hundred Balboas [C$133] on the first occurrence. Repeated failure to comply may result in cancellation of the residence permit and deportation from the national territory. (Panama 2008a)

Article 32 of the same law states that foreigners whose visa or temporary or permanent residence permits are cancelled will be deported, [translation] "except in cases where otherwise determined by law" (Panama 2008a). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a lawyer from a law firm in Panama City whose practice areas include immigration and naturalization, explained that when the government cancels a residency status, it revokes the cédula [identification card] of the person, and the decision can be appealed to the Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral, TE) (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2019). In a follow up correspondence with the Research Directorate, the lawyer explained the following procedure:

[In the case of] a foreigner who has a permanent residence and has obtained a cédula, if for some reason said cédula is cancelled because the foreigner left the country and stayed more than two (2) years outside of Panama, the reactivation of said cédula could be requested through a petition to the National Immigration Service, whose requirements would be the following:

  1. Note addressed to the Director, requesting the reactivation of the procedure.
  2. Affidavit, duly authenticated by a notary, (informing why [the foreigner] was out of the country for more than two (2) years).
  3. Police Record.
  4. Certification of immigration registration from the Electoral Tribunal.
  5. Copy of expired permanent resident card.
  6. Two passport-sized photos.
  7. Letter from the responsible resident, copy of identity card and public service receipt.
  8. Copy of passport, duly notarized. (Lawyer 28 Aug. 2019)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. Rights of Permanent Residents
4.1 Rights

The lawyer stated that all permanent residents have the right to obtain the cédula, which is described as the "national ID" (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2019). Gray & Co., a law firm in Panama City with specialization in relocation and immigration (Gray & Co. n.d.), indicates that it is not a requirement to obtain a cédula, but those granted permanent residency will receive a letter issued by the immigration office, which they can take to the Electoral Tribunal to obtain the cédula before the expiration of the letter; otherwise, they will need to request a replacement letter (Gray & Co. 14 Aug. 2018).

The website of the Consulate General of Panama in Toronto indicates that being granted permanent residency under the categories of personal economic solvency, investor, or small business investor gives the bearer the right to obtain a cédula, and those who have five years of permanent residency are eligible to apply for a Panamanian passport and nationality (Panama n.d.e). A report published by the European Union Democracy Observatory (EUDO) on Citizenship regarding citizenship law in Panama similarly states that naturalization can be requested by

[f]oreigners who have resided for five consecutive years in the country if, upon becoming adults,

  1. Declare their will to naturalise;
  2. Expressly renounce other nationalities;
  3. Prove their Spanish skills as well as basic knowledge of Panamanian geography, history and political organisation;

2. Foreigners who have resided in the country for three consecutive years and who have

  1. Children born to a Panamanian, or
  2. A Panamanian spouse, in both cases if they fulfil the requirements set out in sections 1 a, b, and c right above … . (Rodríguez Serna June 2016, 10)

According to the same source, article 126 of Decree Law No. 3 provides that the required residency period for applying for naturalization starts when the individual receives the status of permanent resident (Rodriguez Serna June 2016, 10).

The lawyer noted that there are no time limits on the length of time that a permanent resident can stay in the country, and that they can enter and exit freely (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2019). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4.2 Work Permits

According to the lawyer, every permanent resident who is eligible to work according to their category of permanent residence, must obtain a work permit to be employed, and this must be renewed every year, or every three years for the "Friendly Nations" category (Lawyer 28 Aug. 2019). The same source added that after 10 years of permanent residence and work permit renewals, a permanent resident can apply for an indefinite work permit (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2018).

Similarly, BAL reports that the Ministry of Labour changed the work permit regulations for permanent residents of the Specific Countries Permanent Residence "Friendly Nations" category, and as of 25 April 2019, work permits for this category will be issued for three years at a time (BAL 6 June 2019).

According to the lawyer, if a permanent resident is working, they must join the social security system, but those who are not working are not required to join (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2019). Sources state that in order to renew a work permit, the applicant must either have paid nine [consecutive (Lawyer 28 Aug. 2019)] social security contributions or have a copy of their income tax declaration (BAL 6 June 2019; Lawyer 28 Aug. 2019).

5. Responsibilities of Permanent Residents
5.1 Responsibilities

Article 36 of Decree Law No. 3 establishes the Foreigner's Registry:

[translation]

…which will contain all information pertaining to the foreigner applying for the migratory category of temporary or permanent resident established in this Decree Law, who will be identified with a permanent numeric code for all temporary and permanent residents, who are also assigned a permanent numeric code. … (Panama 2008a)

Decree Law No. 3 establishes additional obligations for permanent residents:

[translation]

Article 37. All foreigners have the obligation to communicate any change in the information that they have provided to the Foreigners’ Registry within a period not exceeding thirty calendar days counted from the date on which the circumstances leading to such change take effect. …

Article 91. All foreigners have the obligation to carry documentation that identifies them. Failure to comply with this obligation will result in the application of a fine of ten Balboas [C$13]. (Panama 2008a)

5.2 Renewals

Gray & Co. indicates that immigration or permanent residency cards do not expire (Gray & Co. 14 Aug. 2018).The lawyer similarly stated that the immigration status as "permanent" does not need to be renewed (Lawyer 23 Aug. 2019). The same source noted that the cédula must be renewed as it expires every four years (Lawyer 28 Aug. 2019). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

AbogadosPanama.net. N.d. "Lic. Julissa Ortega de Rivers: Abogado Migratorio en Panama." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP (BAL). 6 June 2019. "New Regulations Set for Specific Countries Permanent Residence." [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019]

Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP (BAL). 30 January 2017. "Immigration Changes Touch on Length of Stay, Temporary ID Provisions." [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019]

Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP (BAL). N.d. "Welcome to BAL." [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019]

Candanedo Correa. 24 September 2018. "Panama Friendly Nations Visa." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019]

CS Law Firm. 19 June 2018. "Process to Request the Permanent Residency Under Friendly Nations Visa." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

CS Law Firm. N.d. "CS Law Firm." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Gray & Co. 14 August 2018. Beth Gray. "Immigration Q&A - Panama Visas - Residency." [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019]

Gray & Co. 12 March 2018. "Friendly Nations Visa - Work Permit in Panama." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019]

Gray & Co. N.d. "Relocation & Immigration: Panama Lawyers." [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019]

Lawyer, Panama City. 28 August 2019. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Lawyer, Panama City. 23 August 2019. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Ortega Rivers & Abogados Asociados. N.d. "Requisitos para optar por la visa de países amigos de Panamá." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. 7 August 2017. Core Document Forming Part of the Reports of States Parties. (HRI/CORE/PAN/2017) [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019]

Panama. 2012. Decreto Ejecutivo n.º416 (Executive Decree No. 416). Excerpts translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada. [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. 2008a. Decreto Ley n.º3 (Decree Law No. 3). Excerpts translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada. [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. 2008b. Decreto Ejecutivo n.º 320 (Executive Decree No. 320). Excerpt translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada. [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. 2008c. Ley 25 de 9 de mayo de 2008. [Accessed 7 Sept. 2019]

Panama. N.d.a. Servicio Nacional de Migración (SNM). "Requisitos y check list - permisos migratorios." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. N.d.b. Autoridad Nacional para la Innovación Gubernamental. "Solicitud de permiso de residencia permanente de refugiados." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. N.d.c. Autoridad Nacional para la Innovación Gubernamental. "Solicitud de permiso de residente permanente como personal permanente contratado por la autoridad del Canal de Panamá." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. N.d.d. Servicio Nacional de Migración (SNM). "Procedimiento de renovación de regularización migratoria general. Requisitos Decreto 169." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2019]

Panama. N.d.e. Consulate General of Panama in Toronto. "Panama Residency Citizenship and Passports." [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019]

Rodríguez Serna, Nicolás. June 2016. Report on Citizenship Law: Panama. European Union Democracy Observatory (EUDO) on Citizenship. (RSCAS/EUDO-CIT-CR 2016/8) [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019]

United Nations (UN). 3 June 2009. General Assembly. Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by States Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties. (HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6) [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]

United States (US). 25 February 2009. Department of State. "Panama." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Law firm in Panama City with specialization in Immigration; Panama – Embassy of Panama in Canada; Panama Country Expert at the Global Citizenship Observatory (GLOBALCIT).

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; ecoi.net; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; UN – Refworld; Williams & Associates.