Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mobility Act -- Immigration Law 2017 -- What You Need to Know!

The one thing you can be sure of in Ecuador is change and now we have new changes in residency visas.  To clarify the many questions that I’ve received, I’ve decided to blog about it. There are still some unknowns about the new act, but I’ll clear those up as I receive news.

Back in the day (meaning when we got our permanent residency visas in 2010), we went to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Washington DC and received our 12-IX and three weeks later upon arriving in Ecuador we had our permanent residency visas (pensioner’s visa) good for 12 years instead of 10 – don’t ask (we still don’t know why that happened). 

There were some stipulations, however, and they had to do with travel. We couldn’t be out of the country more than 90 days for the first two years and then up to 18 months the third year. I call it the 90-90-18 month rule. Unless, you were going for citizenship and then it was the 30-30-30 day rule; you couldn’t be gone from Ecuador more than 90 days in a three-year period. Now we do know some folks who got their citizenship despite that rule, but it took some "lawyering" to get it done.

Our experience with the pensioner’s visa process was seamless (seven years ago) with the aid of an immigration attorney in Quito. It was textbook perfect.

Forget everything I just told you because those are the old rules and these are the new rules, which have some significant changes.

Under the old law there were two categories non-immigrant and immigrant visas, which have now merged so you can dismiss those two words from your vocabulary and now they’re all lumped into the following: pensioner’s visa (retired); investor’s visa (25K in the bank or equivalent property); religious visa (missionary or pastor); student visa; professional visa; volunteer visa and sportsman visa (I have no idea what that entails), and dependent visas (I’m dependent on my husband’s pensioner’s visa), and lastly international protection visas.

I’m going to begin with the Permanent Residency Visa, since most folks are planning to stay (even though they usually don’t and leave after five years to explore other international destinations or back to the States).

Permanent Residency Visa: Allows foreign citizens to stay in Ecuador for an indefinite period of time. If you obtained a temporary visa (which I will talk about at another time) and decide you want to stay indefinitely you will need the following:

*Apostilled criminal background check (FBI). 

*Proof of economic resources. For example for the pensioner’s visa, you must prove that you have $800 per month for life and $100 for each of your dependents.

*All the necessary legal paperwork for the categories listed above.

A temporary resident can be eligible for permanent residency if they married an Ecuadorian citizen (that happens a lot – especially with the teachers we work with); they have stayed in Ecuador for at least 21 months; they’re related to an Ecuadorian citizen (or permanent resident of Ecuador); and  minors or disabled person dependent on a permanent resident of Ecuador. If you are going from a temporary visa to permanent residency visa, you’ll need a valid Ecuadorian criminal report or valid criminal background check and proof of economic means to remain in Ecuador.

Here are the big changes (read carefully):

*Proof of foreign medical insurance or enrollment in Ecuador’s health insurance system (IESS) or private Ecuadorian health carriers (Humana, Salud, Confiamed, etc.).

*Travel Restrictions. This is quite a change from the previous rule. A person with a permanent residency visa cannot be out of the country more than 180 days each year (previously it was 90) during the first two years and after that you may leave the country up to five years (previously it was 18 months). Wow, that’s a big change! The penalty for staying out more than 180 days during the first two years is $1,500.

There are still some things that need to be clarified. For example, those of us who received our permanent residency and cedula seven years ago – are we grandfathered into the new law? What about the folks who started their paperwork in 2016 and are caught in the middle – do the new rules apply? And what type of health insurance must they show. For example, you’re only eligible for IESS (Social Security System of Ecuador), after you become a resident.

My Thoughts: I think it’s a good thing that foreigners are required to show proof of medical insurance before entering the country. One of the reasons why we came to Ecuador was for the excellent medical care, but we had a private policy for three years before we signed up for IESS. And as far as the extended periods of stay outside of Ecuador, I think it’s also a good thing especially for those of us in the sandwich generation with parents who are still alive, children and grandchildren (oh my!). Our problem is this: We’re 61 years old and aren’t eligible for Medicare (yet), so we have to buy medical insurance when we travel to the States (and it isn’t cheap!). And to add insult to injury, under Obamacare we can’t be gone more than 30 days from Ecuador or we have to pay a fine for exceeding those limits. Now, I know Obamacare is being repealed, but as expats we don’t know what the new restrictions will be (better or worse).

As mentioned, the biggest changes are the proof of health insurance (how much coverage I’m not sure about) and, of course, the travel restrictions. I’m not sure what the new fee schedule will be for each of the permanent residency visas (if any), but I will keep on top of it.

Next time, I’ll tackle the change in temporary visas. I won’t update the book Living and Retiring in Cuenca:101 Questions Answered until I’m clear on the new fee schedules (if any) and any other changes.

Until next time…hasta luego!

Connie and Mark 

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