Panama is a country known for the diversity of nationalities that converge in its territory. It is something that we Panamanians have seen since we were children. In fact, many Panamanians have friends who remained in Panama due to work or love. It is common to encounter a Chinese owner of a convenience store, or a merchant with a foreign accent in a shopping mall. The above-mentioned situations are but a few examples of the great diversity of cultures in Panama.
However, despite the fact that Panama has a long-standing tradition of welcoming foreigners from all over the world, it has developed labour laws designed to protect Panamanians’ jobs. The labour laws in Panama limit the percentage of foreigners that can work for a company. Several professional licenses are prohibited for foreigners, including medicine and law. We do not intend to pass judgment on the labour laws as appropriate or inappropriate; we only refer to them to inform our readers.
It has been possible to overcome some of these legal setbacks through the promulgation of migratory and labour legislation creating new immigration statuses. For example, foreign university graduates or nationals of a country among those appearing on the list of 48 privileged countries, commonly known as “friendly nations”, are now eligible for one of the new immigration statuses.
Nevertheless, this does not provide a solution for everyone, and much less to those who, despite having one or more university degrees, cannot work in their profession as a result of a law that prevents them from obtaining a license reserved only for Panamanian nationals.
Neither do such legal restrictions provide a solution to the ever growing number of foreign investors who are eager to trade their products in the retail sector, which is another activity reserved for Panamanians by the Constitution. Such persons, quite often pressed by circumstances, may choose to naturalise or become citizens.
This is basic information for lawyers, but it is also good for others to keep in mind that the National Constitution sets out three separate conditions under which a person may request naturalisation:
1. Five consecutive years of residence in Panama
2. Three consecutive years of residence in Panama if there are children born to a Panamanian mother or father or Panamanian spouse in Panama
3. By reciprocity, if the person is a national of Spain or another Latin American country, and fulfils the same requirements for naturalisation of a Panamanian in that country.
In any event, one should bear in mind that the above-mentioned residence needs to be permanent and obtained in accordance with the respective migratory procedures. In addition, proficiency in Spanish and basic knowledge of Geography, Spanish, and Panama Political Organization must be proven through a test given by the Electoral Tribunal. A foreigner seeking naturalisation should note that the National Constitution requires renouncing the nationality of origin. Although an affidavit is used for this purpose, same which is attached to the naturalisation file, those documents need not be presented to the country from which a person renounces. However, it must be taken into account that in some countries renouncing nationality has legal effects, whereas there are no such effects in others.
Naturalisation is usually a lengthy process considering that by law the President of the Republic needs to review such requests, and that the matter itself, due to national security, requires participation of certain government agencies.
As we do not foresee a Constitutional amendment in the near future, and modification of certain laws regulating the subject entails long consultation periods, it may well be wise to start thinking about the naturalisation process as a viable option.
Immigration Services Offered by Mossack Fonseca
Our full suite of immigration services encompass all of the current Panama visa programs for tourists, immigrants, workers, investors, foreigners married to Panamanian businessmen/women, and others. A partial list of the many visa programs we can assist you with includes:
• Naturalisation as Panamanian Citizen
• Friendly Nations Visa
• Pensioner Visa
• Professional Employment Visa
• Reforestation Investor Visa
• Self Economic Solvency Visa
• Business Investor Program
• Married to Panama Citizen Visa
• Parents of Child Born in Panama Visa
• Tourist Visa
• Tax Free Processing Zone Investor Program
In addition, we can assist clients with extensions, exit and entry permits, residency, and a host of additional visa, immigration, and other legal services.