Over the last few weeks Panama has changed its immigration policies. First, it abolished a norm that allows foreigners from the European Union to enter the country without the need of a tourist visa. Now they will have to have one to be able to visit the Isthmus, according to the new decree.
This sudden change of policy, came after the neighboring country of Costa Rica adopted a similar position. However, the new rule does not affect the great majority of European citizens who can still enter both Central American countries for short stays without a need of a visa. United States citizens can also enter without visas.
The decree signed by the Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela on December 28, abolished tourist visas for those “who have visas to enter or are United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain residents and have been used to enter those countries.”
The official gazette indicates that those nations have developed strong cooperation links with Panama in respect of immigration control, monitoring system, security and confidentiality.
The Executive Decree No 590, sanctioned by President Varela said that the National Immigration Service authorities will issue valid tourist visas for a period no longer than 90 days (three months), when before they were for six months. The old tourist visa allowed foreigners to stay and even work during their six months in Panama. This has been modified.
Legislator, Elías Castillo, who has presented a bill, aims to reduce the influx of foreigners to the country, pointing out that it is necessary to regulate the presence of illegal immigrants who come in with tourist visas and stay longer than the law allows, some of them even working illegally.
Castillo added that the idea is not to deter tourists coming to the country, but to control the number of foreigners who are staying here permanently.
The Panama Tourism Authority administrator, Gustavo Him, said that three months for a tourist visa is a reasonable amount of time, bearing in mind that visitors normally stay between ten to 15 days.
Sara Pardo, president of the Panamanian Hotel Association in Panama (Apatel), said that the changes in the tourist visas will not have a great impact on the sector, because there is a big difference between the foreigner who comes to Panama as a tourist and the one who is coming to stay.