Virginia, US

Apr 11 2019

Immigration Reforms Forthcoming

Guatemala

At a Glance

Several immigration reforms will take effect on April 19 in Guatemala. Key changes include:

  • Stricter background checks for temporary and permanent residence permits;

  • Extended validity for temporary residence permits;

  • Stricter eligibility criteria for permanent residence permits, requiring continuous and uninterrupted residence for at least five years; and

  • Temporary residents will be eligible for Guatemalan Identification Cards.

As part of the package of reforms, the government has already implemented restrictions for business visitors, including a shorter allowable length of stay and a more restricted definition of business activities.


The situation
Recently published regulations implementing Guatemala’s 2016 immigration law will take effect for applications filed on or after April 19 and will change several processes, requirements and obligations for visas and residence permits.


A closer look
The regulations will implement the following relevant changes:

  • Stricter background checks for temporary and permanent residence permits. Foreign nationals applying for temporary or permanent residence will need to obtain a police clearance certificate in addition to a criminal clearance certificate from each country of legal residence for the past five years, apostilled or legalized (depending on whether the country of issuance recognizes apostilles).
  • Impact. 
    • This requirement will make the temporary and permanent residence application process more burdensome and may cause significant delays, as processing times to obtain criminal records in many countries can be lengthy.
    • The governmental office in charge of issuing a police clearance certificate varies from country to country and there are countries that do not issue this document (such as Mexico). If the country of residence does not issue this document, the foreign national will need to procure an affidavit to this extent, also apostilled or legalized, though some countries do not issue such an affidavit.
  • Extended validity of temporary residence permits. Foreign nationals will be able to request a five-year temporary residence permit, up from the previous two-year validity.
    • Impact. Long-term temporary residents will no longer need to renew their temporary residence permit during a five-year stay.
  • Stricter eligibility criteria for permanent residence permit. To apply for permanent residence, temporary residence permit holders will need to prove at least five years of continuous and uninterrupted residence in Guatemala. There is currently no residence period requirement for permanent residence.
    • Impact. Temporary residents will need to wait longer to apply for permanent residence.
  • Temporary residents can obtain Guatemalan Identification Cards. Temporary residents will be able obtain Guatemalan Identification Cards (DPI). Currently only permanent residents may obtain this document.
    • Impact. Temporary residents will be able to perform administrative and legal processes in Guatemala, such as obtaining bank credit, which they previously could not do without a Guatemalan DPI.
       
  • Business visitor rules. The below changes have already taken effect:
    • Elimination of Business Visa. The category of Business Visa has been eliminated, and business travelers can now only enter Guatemala under the category of “Tourist or Traveler”, only to perform consulting and advisory activities.
      • Impact. The new regulations seem to limit business visits to professionals and technicians entering Guatemala for consultancy or advisory activities. The scope of activities allowed under a Tourist or Traveler status is still uncertain.
    • Post-arrival application eliminated. Business visitors are no longer required to obtain a Business Visa after arrival.
      • Impact. Visa nationals must still obtain the appropriate entry visa to enter Guatemala but are no longer required to apply for a Business Visa after arrival. This reduces the administrative burden for business visitors.
    • Validity for entry. The allowable consecutive stay as a business visitor has been reduced to 90 days, with the possibility of extension for an additional 90 days, whereas currently the allowable stay is 180 days, with the possibility of a 180-day extension.
      • Impact. Business visitors will now have to limit their stay in Guatemala to a shorter stay than was previously allowed.
  • Pending applications. Only applications for temporary or permanent residence filed on or after April 19 will be affected by the above changes.
     

Background

In 2016, the Guatemalan Congress approved a comprehensive immigration code, in response to a major immigration crisis and lack of human rights considerations in immigration procedures. The law, among other things, orders the creation of an independent Migratory Institute to carry out and streamline the execution of the country’s immigration policies and procedures.

The recently-published regulations will implement the above-mentioned code by developing the procedures and requirements for visas and residence permits.


Looking ahead

Though it is uncertain why the government limited business activities so restrictively in the regulation, Fragomen believes the government will clarify its position and the regulation in the future. Until then, business visitors should consult their immigration professional for advice based on their specific planned activities and related entry rules.

The Guatemalan government is also expected to provide further guidance on the practical effect of the categorization in temporary residence applications established in the regulations.

Fragomen will monitor and report on details of this categorization, any clarifications on the business visitor rules and other relevant developments.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen or send an email to lar@fragomen.com