Panama cedes visa vetting to four countries
by Eric Jackson
On January 13 Executive Decree 591 was published in the Gaceta Oficial, the second change in immigration policies promulgated by the Varela administration in less than a week. It allows those from countries which require a visa to enter Panama to come to this country without a visa and without the need to obtain a tourist visa if they have a resident or multiple entry visa to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia. This change in Panama’s immigration regulations has already been misrepresented by some media and at least one foreign embassy. It does NOT waive tourist and residency visa requirements for US, UK, Canadian or Australian citizens — only for citizens of third countries who have been vetted for the right sorts of visas in those countries.
To get this free pass into Panama the visa for one or more of those four countries must have at least one years’ validity left on it and the person must have actually set foot in the country that issued the visa. Colombia and a number of other Latin American countries have reciprocal agreements that waive the requirement to previously obtain a visa before entering Panama, so the new decree does not affect citizens of those countries. Russian and Chinese citizens, and people from most of the Caribbean nations, will come under the protection of the new decree.
In its argument justifying the new decree, the Varela administration pleads that it needs to better direct its immigration control resources and “that friendly nations with which Panama has established strong ties of cooperation with respect to the problems of migration control … have established systems of migratory vigilance and control with elevated standards of security and trustworthiness.” That notion is quite controversial within the United States and the United Kingdom, where anti-immigrant politics are flourishing, often on the basis of fictitious or exaggerated stories but also sometimes fed by tales of the actual admission of foreign criminals into those countries by their immigration authorities.
Canada, it seems, has a foreign policy of often accepting and encouraging the emigration of its own criminal element to Panama. When Canadian career criminal Monte Friesner used the Panamanian courts to strike back at press criticism, the Canadian Embassy here considered that it was not their concern. Similarly, when former British Columbia lawyer Mary Sloane — allowed to resign from the bar when caught stealing from a client — ran a pyramid scheme in Panama whose victims were mostly Canadians living here, Panamanian authorities refused to act because the victims were foreigners and the Canadian Embassy refused to take a position because it was something that happened in Panama. While a hit man for the Montreal chapter of the Hells Angels was extradited from his Coronado refuge, Panama has been a dumping ground for Canadian pedophile priests and stock swindlers without much apparent concern in Ottawa. But Canadians have embraced multicultural ideals to a much greater extent than the British and Americans have, such that anti-immigration agitation is very much a fringe cause there.
The decree makes those foreigners with European Union visas subject to the same sorts of tourist and visa requirements that apply to US citizens — or can be more onerous, depending on the countries of origin of such persons. Cubans, Dominicans and Haitians with US green cards will have easier access to Panama than do American citizens.
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