Recommended citation:
IRB - Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: Rights and freedoms of status refugees in Costa Rica, particularly right to work, danger of expulsion, possibility of exiting and returning to Costa Rica and right to permanent residence [CRI8120], 13 March 1991 (available at ecoi.net)
http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/174164/276146_en.html (accessed 20 September 2017)

Rights and freedoms of status refugees in Costa Rica, particularly right to work, danger of expulsion, possibility of exiting and returning to Costa Rica and right to permanent residence [CRI8120]

The information that follows was given by the regional director of the UNHCR in Costa Rica during a telephone communication with the IRBDC on 13 March 1991.

People who are granted refugee status in Costa Rica hold a special I.D. card that allows them to engage in a variety of activities including, for example, opening of a bank account. Status refugees can request a work permit, which is normally granted for specific jobs or fields of work. In some cases refugees may be denied a work permit; although infrequent, it is usually denied on the grounds that the refugee would be displacing Costa Rican manpower from the particular occupation or field of work. Some businesses have a legal limitation on the number or percentage of foreigners that can compose its workforce. However, refugees who have resided for three or more years are automatically entitled to a work permit, regardless of concerns for the employment of Costa Rican nationals. The refugee is also automatically entitled to a work permit if he or she is married to a Costa Rican national or has children who were born in Costa Rica.

The source added that there have been no cases of expulsion of status refugees from Costa Rica. However, a significant number of Nicaraguans searching for work have recently entered Costa Rica, and the immigration authorities have proceeded to turn back those who are not considered refugees.

Status refugees can obtain permits for leaving Costa Rica for a given period of time and returning. However, in most cases refugees request exit and return permits to visit countries other than their own (for example, Salvadoreans may request a permit to visit Panama). There are few cases of refugees asking for permits to visit their countries of origin, most of them limited to people who have to return for a short period of time for very specific circumstances (death of a close relative could be an example). A refugee who returns to his/her country of origin without a Costa Rican exit permit and without a justifying motive could possibly lose his/her refugee status in Costa Rica, since the person would be demonstrating that he/she has no reason to fear return. Under a voluntary repatriation program, a number of refugees are currently returning to their country of origin for brief periods in specially organized trips to see if the conditions at their original place of residence allow their definitive return.

Finally, the source indicated that status refugees in Costa Rica can apply for permanent residence, but lose their refugee status upon the granting of permanent residence. Status refugees who have resided for five years in Costa Rica can apply for Costa Rican citizenship. The UNHCR official pointed out that foreigners need a work permit whether they are status refugees or permanent residents.

An officer of the Embassy of Costa Rica in Ottawa provided the information that follows during a telephone communication with the IRBDC on 14 March 1991.

Due to increasing problems poised by the presence of numerous refugees and illegal immigrants in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican government's policy towards them has been changing recently and becoming somewhat more strict. The source indicated that the latest change affecting refugees in Costa Rica was notified to the Costa Rican Embassy last week (early-March 1991), indicating that refugees who voluntarily leave Costa Rica for any country are not allowed back into the country, unless they apply for obtaining refugee status again. Exceptions to this new measure include refugees who travel under a special program such as, for example, the one described by the UNHCR officer quoted above.

The same source added that the usual prerequisite for requesting permanent resident status is living in Costa Rica for two years with temporary resident status. However, given the number of foreigners currently residing in Costa Rica, authorities are being more cautious than in previous years in their granting of permanent residence permits, since people have the legal right to request Costa Rican citizenship after some years of being permanent residents of Costa Rica (five years in the case of Central Americans, seven years in the case of all other foreigners).