[private] From the first meeting, my lawyer proposed I get married to a Honduran, or maybe adopt a Honduran baby. He said that “this would make my residency very easy and quick.” My answered to him was “marriage of convenience” would cause a major consternation in my family, and I decided to get the residency the hard way: thru a legal process. That process took eight years, hundreds of my hours, and cost thousands of dollars.
Before too long my lawyer was killed in a Tegucigalpa market, one of five lawyers killed that black November of 2004. He was a tough guy and wasn’t afraid of anyone. He took on criminal cases and one of them cost him his life. Unfortunately I found out that he applied on my behalf not really for a “residency,” but for a “temporary stay,” and most of the documents I acquired with much effort had “expired” anyway; a statement of criminal history in a state, HIV tests, Honduran police statement of no criminal history, all expired within three months.
I had to find another lawyer and start the process from the beginning. This was especially frustrating because I knew that if I was in the US, I would have gotten my Green Card after two years and citizenship after another five. I’ve been in Honduras eight years and only now have I received an ID with an unrecognizable photo, stating I am a resident here.
My immigration saga had many lows and a few highs and I always tried to look at the dilemma with a sense of humor. Just a few days after publishing my first magazine, a self-declared competitor had denounced me to the Roatan immigration officials.
A definite highlight however, of my personal immigration saga, came when a Roatan Mayor called an emigration official who unannounced, showed up at my home at 8pm, then begun calling me and followed me to West End. Within a couple of months the same Mayor made two trips to Tegucigalpa’s immigration office to try to have me deported. Apparently national immigration is as suspicious of overzealous mayors, still my immigration process stalled for a couple years.
Examples of immigration officials extorting fines, with no receipts, range from annoying to perplexing and demoralizing. A friend told me that after marrying a Honduran, in order to move the residency process along, his Honduran wife would hand deliver cakes to particular immigration officials to speed things along. “When one official received a carrot cake and another lemon cake, the official demanded that we make a carrot cake for her as well. What could we do? We baked a carrot cake,” told me my friend.
Many foreigners decided that other that going thru the expensive and frustrating residency process, it is less frustrating, and less corrupting on the soul just to leave the country every 90 days. Still, not being able to be a resident has affected how many people see the future in Honduras… temporary and possibly interrupted at any moment.
Honduran government made it more and more difficult for foreigners to stay in the Bay Islands. In 2003 you could stay 90 days automatically. Since 2006, as a foreigner in Honduras you couldn’t just go to Guatemala to leave the country: you had to travel outside of Central America to reenter Honduras. I’ve heard of people that decide to leave Honduras via land border… for 10 minutes. After you are back in Honduras and are legal for another 90 days.
The foreigners that live, work and father babies on the Bay Islands while on tourist visas are in their hundreds if not more. They all have to find their own way with going around the restrictive yet porous immigration restrictions for international visitors. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of stories from people figuring out ways to avoid paying and bribe immigration officials thru some creative thinking and acting.
For example, when flying out on an international flight from San Pedro Sula, the airline officials collect the yellow tourist slip and never, or very rarely, check its content – to see if you overstayed it. You could be in the country for years, and pay no penalties if you choose to leave Honduras this way.
At one point a boat would leave Roatan for Belize with dozens of passports to be stamped by a ‘friendly’ immigration official. Some other boaters with crew stamped themselves out on a sail to Belize, never left and return to the immigration officials and port captain, saying that they returned due to bad weather in international waters and get a stamp for another 90 days.
A constant change of Honduras immigration laws make for an unstable, chaotic, corruptible environment. Not everyone has the stamina, will or the interest to constantly battle and maneuver in the dungeons, entrails of the country’s immigration law. Business competitors, whose legal status is often nebulous, use the phrase “are you legal here” to level the playing field, or just to intimidate the new arrivals. As long as Honduras will see immigration as a way to extort money from foreigners, business will not flourish here.