The 30 Day Itch
Long Term Foreigner Residents in BI are trying to Make Sense of the Confusing Immigration Laws and Fines

September 1st, 2008
by Tracy Carris

[private]

Roatan Airport Immigration Counter.

Roatan Airport Immigration Counter.

Until mid August many foreigners departing the Bay Islands were fined, most often without a receipt, for overstaying the allotted time on their visa. The typical fine applied was Lps. 1,624. Now, after involvement of the Tegucigalpa Immigration, anyone fined for overstaying their allotted time should receive a receipt.

“Don’t pay the fine, if they don’t give you a receipt,” stated Rigoberto Alvarado, a Chief of Foreign Matters at Immigration Department in Tegucigalpa. Alvarado went onto say the law requires that North Americans and Europeans entering Honduras for tourist purposes should be issued 90 days visas automatically.

There are hundreds of foreigners frustrated and confused about the ever changing immigration laws and rudimentary application of 90 day visa, or visa renewals. Many of them are retirees, live on fixed budgets and many also own homes on the Bay Islands. Still, every 90 days they have to leave Honduras and travel as far as Mexico, or Costa Rica, stay there three days, to be allowed back into the Honduras.

“It’s money, money, money and I’ve never had anything accomplished with a lawyer,” says Larry Wood, a Canadian retiree on Roatan since 1994 who has given up trying to get his residency. Woods lives on a fixed budget and every three months leaves Honduras to be able to enjoy his Jonesville Point residence. Wood estimates that that over the years he has spent around $1,500 on visa renewals. “Never in 14 years they have given me a receipt,” says Wood.

Initially Mario Pacheco, former chief of Bay Islands Immigration, argued that no proper receipts can be issued outside of the banks. A few days later, after Bay Islands Voice contacted Tegucigalpa Immigration about the receipt issue, Pacheco found a way to account for fines collected from foreigners that should end up in governments coffers.

Bay Islands Voice investigative reporting resulted in change of Bay Islands immigration procedures and promise of issuing of receipts for every fine paid. With an immigration official’s starting salary of Lps. 6,000, the temptation of pocketing 27% of a monthly salary for every fine was substantial. From now, tens of thousands of dollars owed to central government should be accounted for. Honduras, in Transparency International ranking, places 121 for corruption, 1 being the best (Finland) and 163 (Haiti) the worst.

Prior to the policy change Roatan immigration officials said that they were doing foreign visitors a favor by letting them leave the country without the inconvenience, or virtual impossibility, of visiting a bank to pay the fine. Pacheco stated that new procedure for paying fines, using a page off government fees form deposit slip, was in place as of mid August.

Pacheco said that the automatic 90 day visa applies strictly to tourists. Business visas leave more discretion to the immigration official who determine if the business is legal, taxes are being paid and ties to the Honduran business community exist. To be considered for a 90 day business visa Pacheco suggested to provide immigration officials the following: a letter from your attorney if you are applying for residency, a copy of your corporation documents, or a bank book in the company name. A 30 day visa extension is typically available for $25.

According to Marlene Aquiriano, an airport immigration official, even people who enter the country as tourist can be determined to be here on business. If the officer determines you trip is business as well as tourism, there is a strong chance you will be issued 30 days.

Dr. Patrick Connell, a volunteer doctor at Sandy Bay’s Clinica Esperanza, stated that over the past several years he had problems getting a 90 day visa, but this year, with a letter in hand from the clinic was granted 90 days for the first time.

According to Aquiriano, the fine for overstaying initial visa is Lps. 1,624 Lempira for the first month and for every extra month the visa is overstayed the fine goes up Lps. 325.

Pacheco was recently rotated off the Bay Islands and replaced by Ramon Paz. For further information on Honduran Immigration the following numbers and web site may help: Roatan Immigration: 2445-1326, Tegucigalpa Immigration: 2235-7038 and www.gobernacion.gob.hn. [/private]

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