Friday, June 14, 2013

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part One: Hopping on the Crazy Train

After being here for a little over a year, the road map of our daily lives here in Belize is somewhat predictable. However, for the last week or so, we needed to take a detour and hop on the Crazy Train to get all our paperwork together to apply for Permanent Residency.
When making the decision to move here, we knew there were a couple of options for retirees. We did a great deal of research into the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program, as well as the requirements for Permanent Residency. At the end of the day, we felt the Permanent Residency road was the right one for us to take.

We understood we would need to live in the country one year before applying, and not leave the country for more than 14 consecutive days until our application was approved. Each month, we would go to the Immigration Office here in town to renew our 30-day stamp. For the first six months, the stamp cost $50 BZD or $25 USD each. After that six month time period, the stamp cost goes up to $100 BZD or $50 USD each, per month.

One of the perks we liked about Permanent Residency was that once your application was approved, you no longer needed to get those monthly stamps and could even travel to Mexico without having to pay the $37 per person exit fee.

We met a handful of couples who were going through or had just completed the residency process not long after we arrived, so it was interesting to hear their stories on how fast/slow, easy/difficult the whole process was.

One thing pretty much everyone agreed on was that it wasn’t necessary to wait until your one year anniversary of living here to request the application, medical form, and the checklist for required documents.

And what, you might ask, are those required documents? Well, here is the verbatim list, and in case you were wondering, as far as I can determine none of the forms are available online:

  • Evidence that you are in the country legally for one year prior to application (Copy of Passport pages or Refugee Card).
  • An Immigration Fee in the sum of BZ $___ will be charged upon approval.
  • Alien Registration for yourself and members of your family over the age of sixteen if you remained in the country for at least six months.
  • Recent Police record for yourself and all members of your family over the age of sixteen. To obtain a Belize Police Record you must have been in the country for at least six months.
  • Documentary evidence that you have acquired land in Belize or that you have access to land if you make such a claim.
  • Certificate of Health including HIV & VDRL tests for yourself and all members of your family.
  • Three recent passport size photographs of yourself, wife and children if they are to be included. (Photographs must be included).
  • Wife’s/Husband’s Birth Certificate.
  • Marriage Certificate.
  • Sworn declaration of support (from husband or common-law husband). [Note from me: I’ll elaborate on this document in my next post. But any woman with even the teeniest feminist bent should be forewarned that your blood pressure will probably spike.]
  • Recent Local Bank statement or otherwise where means of financial support is not indicated.
  • Temporary Employment Permit if you are or wish to engage in gainful employment.
  • Income Tax Statement.
Now not every one of these items are mandatory for every application. It depends on why you’re applying for residency. In theory, your local Immigration officer should be able to check off which documents apply for your particular situation. And this is where we first stepped on to the Crazy Train. 

When we went to the Immigration office last month, we asked the officer if we could get the residency application and checklist, as we had been living in the country for a year. He told us that we needed to be in the country for more than a year -- 14 months to be exact -- before he would consider giving us the forms. We said that we had checked various Belize websites, including the one for the City of Belmopan (the nation’s capital), and the information that was posted noted one only needed to be residing here a year. He told us the websites were not the authority, he was. Also he mentioned that the City of Belmopan website was not the "official" website. When asked what site was the "official" one or where we could locate documentation with all the prerequisites to getting the paperwork, he was not able to tell us.

When we said that even if we had to wait another two months, would it still be possible to receive the forms in advance so we could start pulling together the necessary documentation and ensure we would be able to file all the paperwork on a timely basis? He told us no; he would only give us the forms after we had been here for at least 14 months, should he decide to.

This is the same guy who told us a few months ago that he wouldn’t stamp our passports unless we could provide a street address. Well, here in Ranchito there are few, if any, properties with a street address. We politely explained that fact and said we had a Post Office box. That wasn’t sufficient, and we were told we needed to bring in some form of proof that we lived here, such as utility bills, plus we needed to supply a current financial statement to prove we were monetarily self-sufficient. He made it clear that he would in no way provide the passport stamps unless the paperwork could be furnished to his satisfaction. We were able to provide all the information he was looking for, but it seemed odd that no one had ever requested this stuff before.

Ironically, we came to find out that this same officer told one of our friends – who has only been here six months – that she must apply for residency as soon as possible. When she said that her understanding was that she needed to live here for a year, she was told she was wrong; after six months, applying for permanent residency was mandatory. When she asked what forms she would need, she was told that the Corozal office had none of the forms, and she was given no information on how else to obtain the forms.

Another friend was told by this same officer that she couldn’t apply for permanent residency at all unless her parents were from Belize. In lieu of that (and I might add an impossibility), she could apply for a work permit. As she has been retired for some time from a job she had in the States, she has no plans on starting work again. When she explained all of this, she was told that the only other option she might have would be to enroll with the QRP program, but Permanent Residency was out of the question.

And yet another person we know was told that she couldn’t apply for anything, and in order for her to get an extension for her tourist stamp, she would need to leave the country for two weeks.

I also might add that prominently displayed on one of the walls of the Immigration office is the Serenity Prayer. It dawned on me that it probably wasn't there for the workers, but those of us who had to frequent the office.

Needless to say, with all this conflicting information, we were confused, frustrated, and feeling at a bit of a loss as to what our next steps should be. As far as anyone knew, none of the other districts in the country were having these problems, just Corozal. We also weren't sure if there were enough Belikin's in the country to provide the much-needed stamina to continue our quest.

But during the next couple of weeks, a series of interesting events came into play.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - Chasing Paper

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