A couple of weeks ago, Alessio Gronchi – political commentator – published the following tweet: “If you are one of those spitting bile and discrimination this week, and yet are celebrating today Mariano’s career, have you paused to consider that he’s a foreigner that triumphed overseas and is celebrated by his adopted country as one of their own?”
It got me thinking about Panama’s immigration policies, and how this affects the quality of what it attracts. Unfortunately, Panama still continues to consider itself – in many ways – as a third world country.
It’s immigration policies somehow reflect this.
In particular, the Friendly Nations visa. With this visa, members of certain countries can easily emigrate to Panama, and either set up their own company or get a work permit. The requirements, in either case, are pretty simple:
In either case, the foreigner needs only have a personal bank account with $5,000.00 and fulfill the requirements (documentation) in order to get permanent residency. There are no special requirements regarding education levels or ongoing investment in Panama. There is no transfer of technology or investment in the workforce.
As a lawyer, I love the Friendly Nations visa – quick, easy & efficient. But at the same time, I ask myself – is this truly a policy that is good for the country long term?
If you were an American citizen, wanting to emigrate to New Zealand, you would need to either:
- Apply under the Entrepreneur Resident Visa (showing you have capital + skills)
- Apply under the Skilled Migrant Category
The interesting thing about the Entrepreneur Resident Visa – it has a minimum investment requirement of at least NZ $500,000 and the creation of at least 3 new jobs in New Zealand. This is quite similar to Panama’s Investor Visa, which requires $160,000 and the creation of 5 new jobs.
The Skilled Migrant Category, however, is the one that I find the most fascinating – because this system allows New Zealand to adjust (as often as necessary) the points towards the country’s economic needs. So, the more vacancies New Zealand has in a particular industry or type of qualification, the more points are awarded to that particular qualification. You can see more about the current policy and their points system on their immigration site.
Panama, on the other hand, has a provision in the Constitution that protects “professions”… and any attempt to change this has been blocked by the different professional sectors (particularly doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers).
This means that Panama is NOT attracting skilled labour – because those skills are specifically excluded!
The Ministry of Labour can make exceptions (short term) for professions that are not covered here in Panama (such as Nuclear scientists), but there is little room for introducing innovation into Panama through these policies.
What immigrant policies might work?
Unless we are looking for a Constitutional change – which I don’t see happening in the short term future – then Panama needs to look at the policies it has and work out how to attract the investors and know-how that will up the game in Panama.
In some ways, it has tried to do this:
- City of Knowledge
- Panama Pacifico
Nevertheless – it does nothing to attract those with a technical background and experience – especially from polytechnics (rather than University studies):
- Technology experts – Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, has some excellent startups that are known worldwide, such as Skype, Transferwise, and Pipedrive
- Logistics experts – Panama still has a deficit in this area, although it has made strides forwards since 2013 in increasing University studies in Logistics. This sector is expanding greatly.
- Risk prevention & analysis
- Agricultural technology (that includes the transfer of technology to local farmers) – some of these are reserved also for Panamanians, limiting investors to simply investing in the farm and then relying on Panamanian staff to do the work, when they lack the experience & expertise!
- Refrigeration & Air-conditioning – we live in the tropics!
- Industrial automation (if engineering – reserved for Panamanians)
- Topography – reserved for Panamanians
- Audiovisual communications
- Electronic engineering – reserved for Panamanians, as it falls under engineering
If Panama wants to create a different country – it needs to start attracting a different type of foreigner to come and live and take up residence in Panama. This means no longer looking to attract the retirement crowd, and start attracting investors and innovators.
For this, it needs to look to the education system, so that investors have a workforce that is attractive!