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Saturday, August 30 2014 @ 02:30 AM EDT

Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The "Melting Pot" Immigration Fair

Immigration IssuesBy DON WINNER for - This week Panama's National Immigration Service is holding their 9th "Melting Pot" event. Foreigners living in Panama can present their documents and "normalize" their immigration status in the country. Those who apply, meet the requirements, and are approved are given a card good for two years allowing them to stay in Panama legally, from an immigration point of view. In addition they can also apply for a work permit through the Ministry of Labor. These applications are also being processed at the same "Melting Pot" fair event simultaneously.

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 Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The "Melting Pot" Immigration Fair | 3 comments | Create New Account
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Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The \"Melting Pot\" Immigration Fair
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 21 2012 @ 11:55 AM EDT

Perhaps they could spread it out alphabetically, by last name, over the course of a week or two? Monday (A-E), Tue (F-J) ..etc.

Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The \"Melting Pot\" Immigration Fair
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 21 2012 @ 12:17 PM EDT

A friend got her visa on Monday night at 12:30am. She showed up early Monday morning with all the right documents, including foreign police report but did need a revised Letter of Reference from what she had. So I can attest that the Immigration officials are working 24 hours a day. The challenge I am sure is that many of the applicants have not all the required paperwork so need to get all that generated (i.e. notarized copy of passport..) but these applicants are not lawyers and probably first time for such a complex process. And there were 10-20 vendors outside the area and many were open at 1:00am.

My admiration for both sides of the patience and perseverance being demonstrated. And my hat goes off to Panama for allowing this, North America was built on the shoulders of hard working immigrants from Europe and around the world seeking a better life and willing to work hard for it.

Concern Growing Among Those In Line At The \"Melting Pot\" Immigration Fair
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, June 22 2012 @ 05:57 PM EDT

Opening up the residency to certain nations (worded “executing any kind of business or professional activities") and having the "melting pot" migration regularization where you can also get a work permit within days in some cases. Well this addresses some issues but not many I would assume except knowing better who is in the country (which is a good thing). BTW, even though for a different reason / type, can't tell you how much that annoys those of those who applied through the proper channels up to 12-15 months ago and are still waiting or have had our residency denied for "technicalities" and had to appeal which now means it goes back into the bottom of the pile for another 3-6 months.