Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The "Melting Pot" Immigration Fair
Thursday, June 21 2012 @ 08:50 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
This is generally a very good deal for most foreigners because it allows them to live here in Panama and to work legally, on the books, without fear of being deported or taken advantage of by unscrupulous business owners. It's also a good deal for the government of Panama because they are charging about $1,300 per head or more to process the paperwork. So if they process 5,000 foreigners this week, the government of Panama will be receiving more than $6.5 million dollars in fees.
In addition those approved will be given a work permit so they can apply for jobs and work legally in the country. This means they will be paying into the Social Security system, and they will also pay income taxes. This system takes people who are already here in Panama and working in the "gray" labor market and it brings them into the light, where the larger formalized system can get a slice of what they are making. The Panamanian economy is facing a labor shortage, so these fairs provide a trickle of new and legally registered manpower - people who can be hired to work "on the books" by local business owners.
In the past couple of years the administration of Ricardo Martinelli has conducted these events around the country, with the greatest effort focused on Panama City. This is the ninth such event, and it looks to be one of the biggest or best attended.
This morning I was contacted by some of the people who have been in line both inside and outside of the Roberto Duran arena for days. They expressed their concern over the slow progress. Many have been waiting in line since last weekend, and have gone without sleep or creature comforts. They are uncomfortable and cranky. They are afraid immigration officials might eventually tell them to leave and then not take care of them. And when people get tired and cranky, tempers flare. Believe it or not I have a following among the Spanish speaking expatriate community in Panama as well, and these people were hoping I could find out what's going on.
This morning I spoke with the Director of Immigration Javier Carrillo, and I asked him to address these concerns. Carrillo said "we are there working 24 hours a day. We're doing everything we can, and I can't ask my people to work 36 hours a day because obviously that would be impossible."
Carrillo said they have been somewhat surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people who have shown up to "normalize" their immigration status in the country at this particular event. "As of midday yesterday so far we have attended more than 1,500 people. We have had more of a response this time than we expected."
With regards to the slow progress and people having to wait in line for days, Carrillo said "that's part of the sacrifice they will have to make, the same way that my staff is working hard to take care of them, they will have to be willing to make some sacrifices as well. They are inside the arena, under a roof and not exposed to the elements, it's air conditioned, and there are chairs where they can sit and wait. We are working as hard as we can, and they will have to be patient."
Some people were complaining about a lack of vendors selling food, and Carrillo said "there are two concessionaires inside of the arena who have a contract to sell food, so no one is starving." He explained these were not contracts or concessions let by Immigration, but they are people who have already obtained contracts to sell food at all events held at the arena, so to a certain extent he does not have any control over what they do. I checked again after the interview and was told that yes, in fact there are two food vendors with stands inside of the arena. However these people are apparently also somewhat overwhelmed as well, and while both the Immigration officials and the foreigners are there 24 hours, the food vendors are not. I was told as of this morning they had just returned and were getting set up, ready to get started and open for business.
The people waiting in line were also concerned they might be turned away, and their paperwork would not be processed, because of the long lines and the numbers of people waiting. Carrillo said "anyone who arrives before 7:00 pm on Friday evening will be taken care of. I don't care if we have to work all day Saturday, all day Sunday, and all day Monday. My staff will keep working 24 hours a day until we have processed everyone who has turned out for this event, as long as they meet the requirements and if they have arrived before the end of the fair." So, no one is going to be turned away. Apparently at this point the Immigration officials are sort of making an "official list" - just registering the names and passport numbers of the people who are waiting, giving them a slip of paper, and telling them to "come back tomorrow." The bottom line is, as long as you're registered and on that list, you'll be taken care of.
So, That's The Deal: If you know someone who's waiting in line just tell them to be patient. It's slow going, but progress is being made.
Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.