How to apply for asylum in Costa Rica?

Currently, Costa Rica is one of the nations that offer multiple benefits for people seeking international protection. In addition, it gives special consideration to applicants from Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. It processes, on average, 14,844 petitions per year, mainly due to the political and economic crises these countries have been facing for several decades.

location costa rica

On the other hand, Costa Rica’s approval rate for asylum requests is impressive, as it has been seen to exceed 49%. Hence, it is an excellent option to flee from countries where violence and conflicts of different kinds are experienced, particularly for those who live in any of the aforementioned nations.

In those cases, the Costa Rican government has greater considerations when knowing the particular situations that their inhabitants are going through. The steps to follow to achieve the acceptance of refugee status are easy, but must be fully complied with. Read on to find out all the information you need to start enjoying the benefits of this beautiful tropical country.

First considerations for requesting help in Costa Rica

The process will always be in the hands of the Costa Rican government, through the Refugee Unit and the Visa and Refugee Commission; attached to the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners (DGME) under law # 8764. Therefore, its officials are the ones who carry out the evaluations and make the final decision on asylum applications.

To begin, it is indispensable that you are on Costa Rican soil, together with your family members to be asylum seekers with you. Once there, you can approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners. They offer a series of very interesting social programs that provide assistance to people seeking asylum in Costa Rica.

Now, in order to benefit from any support program sponsored by UNHCR and even to formalize the refugee application, it is mandatory that you fill out a very simple registration form with your personal information and contact details (with the option to update it as many times as necessary). This must also be done by your family members who are in the country.

UNHCR Registration

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Now we will show you the simple steps that you must follow and that will facilitate the registration:

  • Interview Request. You can do it online here, or through a toll-free phone call to 800-REFUGIO, or 800-733-84-46. Remember to be patient, because in most cases date assignments take a while. What is a fact, however, is that UNHCR staff will contact you as soon as they can to let you know when to apply.
  • Interview. Here, the UNHCR team will ask for personal information to start the registration process. Additionally, they will take your fingerprints, a photograph of your face, as well as data from the iris of your eyes or whatever they deem necessary to avoid possible identity theft.
  • Socioeconomic evaluation. Based on the analysis, the respective referrals will be made for the high commissioner’s aid programs; the objective being to help the most vulnerable people entering the country.
  • Contact for benefit. If you are selected as a beneficiary, you will receive a call from UNHCR within approximately two months, indicating that you are part of one of the programs. If you are not contacted, you are not a candidate and will not be able to apply again.
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UNHCR programs

There are two very relevant social programs for persons requesting refugee status: financial assistance and health insurance. It should be noted that the resources allocated for assistance are limited. Therefore, as mentioned above, only the most vulnerable cases will be selected.

Currently, applicants have until February 28, 2022 to apply for the health insurance program under the UNHCR – CCSS Agreement. There are only 10,000 quotas available, and the plan has been directed to people in critical health conditions.

To qualify for this program, you have to fill out the following form; and, in addition, have the endorsements that certify the criticality of the health condition. So if you require the benefit and you are in Costa Rica you still have the opportunity.

Procedure for making an asylum request in Costa Rica

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A request for asylum may be made by any person who has been forced to leave his or her country of origin, either because of persecution or racial or religious discrimination, or because he or she belongs to a certain social group. Also, for issuing political or gender opinions, which triggered violent acts.

If you consider that you have been a victim of any of the above situations, then proceed with the following steps to apply for asylum:

Step 1. Request an appointment

You have three options to do this activity:

  • Entering the country through an airport, port or border post. Notify the authorities of your intention to apply for asylum, and they will assign you an appointment.
  • Making a phone call to 1311 (option 2, followed by option 1).
  • Accessing the immigration website, at the link: SitePages/Home.aspx. Look under the menu “Appointments for immigration procedures”, click on “Refuge” and finally “Create account”. From there, follow the steps indicated by the portal; they are quite intuitive.

Step 2. Complete initial form

On the day of the appointment, the officer will give you a form, on which you will have to fill in personal and family information, as well as contact information. On the other hand, you will have to describe in writing, in detail, the events that led you to flee your country of origin. Try to support your story with dates, places and evidence to back up your words.

When you finish the form, you will be assigned a new appointment with a list of requirements, which you will have to deliver to the indicated Shelter Unit. In the next step we will describe the documents in question.

Step 3. Submit documents for file

Before attending the second appointment , make sure you bring each of the requirements on the list with you. It will depend on them that the case is properly opened with a complete file . The documents to be submitted are:

  • Four recent passport-size photographs.
  • Proof of registration of your fingerprints with the Costa Rican police. Go to the police station closest to your home to register them.
  • Identification document from your country of origin; for example: passport, identity card or driver’s license.
  • Certificate of criminal record, issued by the authorities of the country of origin.
  • Certificate proving marital status.

It should be noted that, if for any reason, you do not have any of the documents listed above, then you will have to make an affidavit. It is simple, but if in doubt, you have a free immigration lawyer at the La Salle Law Office, whose contact number is: 8455-8166.

Step 4. Interview

interview person

You must attend the Refugee Unit in San José or Upala, depending on the location of the file. Remember to arrive without delays and be prepared for the meeting; that is, with the material inherent to the case and a concise, clear and orderly message of why you decided to emigrate from your home country.

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Express yourself freely; no matter how compromising your statement may be, DGME officials will not be able to divulge or communicate any information to the country of origin. This is because the law has established a strict confidentiality agreement for asylum requests.

Each of the words spoken during the interview will be recorded in writing, which you will sign at the end of the session. But, before that, it is important that you read the transcript; because if you find mistakes, you have the right to request that the respective corrections be made so that it coincides with the official statement. This is an essential document for the approval or denial of asylum.

Finally, do not forget to request a photocopy of the declaration and keep it until you receive a final decision. You should also wait for the delivery of a temporary identification, free of charge; this will certify that you are a petitioner, along with your family, for international protection in Costa Rica. In addition, it will guarantee that you have the right to remain in the country, without being expelled or deported, during the period of resolution.

However, the bearer of such document will not be able to perform any paid work immediately; rather, 90 days will have to elapse from the issuance, as long as the case has not yet been resolved. After this period of time, he/she may apply for a temporary work permit (dependent or independent) through one of the following means:

Step #5. Response to the case

Once the process has been completed and the required documentation has been evaluated, the Refugee Unit will issue a recommendation that informs whether or not you meet the criteria to be recognized as a refugee. This recommendation will be received by the Visa and Refugee Commission, which is now in charge of determining the approval or denial of asylum.

If the petition is approved, you will be recognized as a refugee or asylee and you will be able to apply for an immigration identity document. This document will accredit you as a citizen who has received protection from the Costa Rican government and thus, you will enjoy the same social, economic and cultural rights as the native population.

However, if the application is rejected, you may object to the decision; to do so, you must file a “recurso de revocatoria con apelación en subsidio”. You have a maximum of three working days to draft this document, and it is recommended that you receive legal assistance to do so, which, as we have already mentioned, is free of charge.

However, if for any reason the appeal is rejected, then the same Refugee Unit will direct the case to the Administrative Migration Tribunal (TAM). A group of immigration lawyers will review the case from the beginning and convene a hearing to give the final answer.

If the TAM’s decision is negative, you will have to look for another way to regularize your immigration status in the territory. Because after this moment, you run the risk of being deported to your country of origin by the Costa Rican authorities.

costa rican landscape

Rights and duties as an asylum seeker

Costa Rica is one of the Latin American countries that provides the most support to foreigners who have been victims of violence, persecution and discrimination. To this end, it grants several rights during the process; but it also requires compliance with a set of obligations. Let’s see what they are:

No return to the country of origin, until the international protection case is resolved.Respect and faithfully abide by the laws of Costa Rica.
No arrest or sanction for irregular entry into Costa Rican territory.Be properly identified at all times, with proof of the application at hand.
Receive true identification in order to complete the steps of the application correctly.Make contributions to the Costa Rican Social Security Fund if you are self-employed.
Nondiscrimination.Keep your contact information up to date
Participate in the public and private financial systems of Costa Rica. This can be done through bank accounts that allow funds to be transferred.Do not leave the national territory under any circumstances.
Move freely around the national territory and choose where to live.Do not travel to the country of origin, if you do so without prior authorization you will automatically lose the process.
Access Costa Rican justice for free.
Enter government social programs hand in hand with UNHCR.

Costa Rica offers many migration information and opportunities to the most vulnerable foreigners, affected by conflict situations or by some kind of discrimination or violence in their countries. For this reason, it is a perfect option for the migration of the Latin American population.

Maya Martinez

Legal advisor for immigration processes. In addition to providing support in the legal procedures, I offer integral and informative support in relation to the obligations that are acquired when arriving to a new country.

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