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Dominican Immigration

"Alert: New residency and immigration regulations in force beginning June 1st 2012"

In general, Dominican law reflects the welcoming nature of the Dominican people, permitting entry of most foreign nationals whether visiting for pleasure, business, or retirement. In addition, many foreign nationals can obtain residency or citizenship by submitting properly prepared documents, completing legal formalities, and waiting prescribed time periods.

The principal laws regarding immigration are the Constitution, General Immigration Law 285-04, its predecessor Law 95 of 1939, and Law 171-07 regarding special incentives to retirees.

NATIONALITY

Article 18 of the Constitution establishes the following as Dominican nationals:

a) A person born to a mother or father with Dominican nationality, regardless of the country in which the parent lives;
b) A person born in the Dominican Republic, except a person (i) born to a member of a foreign diplomatic service or consulate in the country, (ii) born to an illegal resident, or (iii) born to a foreigner "in transit" as defined by Dominican law;
c) A person marrying a Dominican national, upon fulfillment of the requirements established by law;
d) The direct descendants of Dominicans residing in a foreign country;
e) A person who is naturalized.

The naturalization process is governed by Law 1683, enacted in 1948 and administered by the Department of the Interior (Ministerio de Interior y Policía). An applicant must meet specific residency requirements as explained below. Article 19 of the Constitution stipulates that a naturalized citizen is not eligible to hold the office of President or Vice President of any branch of the Dominican government, and is not required to take up arms against his or her country of origin.

DUAL NATIONALITY

Article 20 of the Dominican Constitution permits dual nationalities, and a Dominican may acquire a foreign nationality without the risk of losing Dominican nationality. Consequently, a Dominican national, who has acquired foreign nationality by virtue of birth, may at the age of eighteen choose dual nationality or relinquish one of the two nationalities. Furthermore, except for becoming President or Vice President of the country, a Dominican with dual nationality may hold any elected office in the Dominican Republic, or be appointed to a ministerial position or a position in the Dominican diplomatic service, without relinquishing the foreign nationality. If the person wishes to run for President or Vice President of the country, the Dominican dual national must relinquish the foreign nationality ten years before the scheduled election and reside in the country for ten consecutive years before taking office.

CITIZENSHIP

The rights of citizenship are only bestowed upon a Dominican national who has reached the age of eighteen, or who is married or has been married before the age of eighteen (Article 21 of the Constitution). Thus, although a minor can be a Dominican national, the minor will not have citizenship rights, unless married.

Citizenship entitles the person to the right to vote, run for public office, vote on referendums, make requests of public interest to policy makers, and report public officials' misconduct in the performance of their duties (Article 22).

However, citizenship will be revoked for conviction of assisting or participating in deliberate attacks or harm against the interests of the Dominican Republic, including treason, espionage, conspiracy, or taking up arms against the Republic (Article 23).

In addition, citizenship will be suspended for the duration of (i) a sentence for a felony conviction, (ii) a legally declared incompetency, (iii) acceptance to a position with a foreign State within the Dominican Republic not preauthorized by the Executive Branch, and (d) a violation of any of the conditions of naturalization (Article 24).

FOREIGN NATIONALS

Under Article 25 of the Dominican Constitution, while in the Dominican Republic, foreign nationals are afforded the same rights and subjected to the same duties as Dominican nationals, with one exception. A foreign national may not participate in political activities in the country except to vote in elections in the foreign national's country of origin. If a foreign national encounters legal problems while in the country, the foreign national may request diplomatic protection only after exhausting all available remedies before Dominican authorities and courts, except where international conventions provide otherwise. Foreign nationals must properly register with the Registry of Foreigners (Registro de Extranjeros).

General Immigration Law No. 285-04, enacted August 15, 2004, and Law No. 875 of July 21, 1978, govern the flow of migrants to and from the Dominican Republic, and grant the Immigration Department (Dirección General de Migración) the authority to control the national borders and administer the law.

ADMISSION TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

A foreign national is admitted to the Dominican Republic either as a "nonresident" or "resident." Nonresidents are those who intend to stay in the country for a limited time for a particular purpose such as pleasure or business, and require a visa or tourist card for legal entry. A resident is a foreign national who is staying in the country for an extended period and has obtained legal residency status, evidenced by a residency card.

NONRESIDENT STATUS

A nonresident foreign national requires permission to enter and stay in the country. Foreign nationals arriving from countries that are party to a dispensation treaty, generally developed countries, are permitted entry by a tourist card and do not need a visa. Tourist cards are purchased for a nominal amount at one of the country's international airports at the time of entry and before passing through customs. They are valid for three months. Foreign nationals who are not citizens of a country covered by such a treaty need to obtain a visa before traveling to the Dominican Republic.

Application for a visa is made to a Dominican Consulate in the foreign national's country of origin, or if no such Consulate exists, to a Dominican Consulate in a nearby country. Several types of visas are available depending on the purpose of the visit: Tourist, Business, Work, and Student. The criteria required for each varies, and the type of visa granted is determined by the Immigration Department. In addition, the time for obtaining a visa varies depending on the practice of the particular Consulate. Visa applications are granted or denied at the discretion of the government. Visas must be obtained before arrival and are typically valid for three months. They cannot be obtained while in the Dominican Republic.

A major difference between a tourist card and a visa is the consequence of expiration. When a tourist card expires, the foreign national is considered in "overstay" status. The foreign national need not leave the country, but exit taxes accrue at a rate of up to 1000 Dominican pesos per month and must be paid before departing from the country. The accrued tax can be paid at the Immigration Department anytime or at the airport before departure. There is no restriction on the number of times a foreign national present on a tourist card may exit and reenter. Upon reentry, however, the foreign national must purchase a new tourist card.

In contrast, a foreign national admitted by a visa is considered "illegally present" in the country when the visa expires. Consequently, this foreign national must leave the country before the visa expires and apply for a new visa from a Dominican Consulate outside the country before reentry or face deportation.

RESIDENCY STATUS

A foreign national, such as a retiree, a person intent on doing business, or an investor, who seeks to stay in the Dominican Republic for a year or more should consider obtaining residency status. Residency status affords the foreign national legal status in the country entitling the person to an identification card (Cédula de Identidad Personal) and access to a more favorable tax structure. Residency status may be sought while the foreign national is in the country on a visa or tourist card; applicants must be in good health, have sufficient economic means and a clean police record.

The process presently involves two steps: temporary residency or "provisional residency" and permanent residency. Each step typically takes up to six months from the date that an application is officially admitted to the Immigration Department.

First Step: Provisional Residency

Provisional Residency is acquired by submitting a package of several properly prepared documents to the Immigration Department. Some of the required documents must be obtained by the foreign national in the country of origin and others must be obtained or prepared by a Dominican law firm. Document preparation must be coordinated to avoid having one document expire before another document is obtained. The package of documents must be complete and each document current before the application can be filed with the Immigration Department.

Document Preparation and Medical Exam

Foreign nationals are responsible for obtaining authenticated copies of their birth certificates and "certificates of good behavior.” A "certificate of good behavior" is also commonly referenced as a "criminal background check" or "no criminal record," and is typically obtained from a police department. The foreign national must consult offices in the country of origin for information on how to obtain and authenticate each document. If the foreign national is from a country that is a member of The Hague Convention, the documents must be authenticated through a simplified process called an "apostille,1" governed by the country of origin. After authentication, each document must be translated into Spanish either in the country of origin or in the Dominican Republic. Translations done in the country of origin must also be authenticated as documents separate from the originals.

Next, the foreign national must come personally to the Immigration Department in Santo Domingo for a special medical exam. Appearance before the Immigration Department requires observance of certain customs. First, applicants are seen on a "first come, first serve" basis. The foreign national and Dominican attorney should arrive early in the morning to reduce the wait. Second, wearing proper attire is critical: shoes must be enclosed (no sandals), and no shorts or sleeveless shirts or blouses are permitted.

The medical exam consists of a chest x-ray and a blood and urine test, including a test for drugs. Prescribed medications should be discussed with your Dominican attorney and listed and presented to the examining physician during the exam. Although the completed exam is valid for one year, there must be at least six months of validity remaining at the time the application is submitted to the Immigration Department.

Finally, after the authenticated and translated documents and medical exams are ready, a Dominican attorney will need approximately one month to obtain and prepare the remaining documents for the application.

Filing the Application

The Dominican attorney will personally submit the application to the Immigration Department, which will immediately admit or reject it. If admitted, the Department will issue a "Letter of Deposit" within three or four working days from the date of admission. This date signifies the beginning of the official inspection process, which can take up to six months. Upon inspection, the Department could still reject the application, or deem there to be a defect in a document and require additional information. The most common obstacles in this process are blood test results and clearance through Interpol (International Crime Police Organization), an intergovernmental organization that facilitates international police cooperation. The attorney of record will be notified by phone of any decision, and given an opportunity to correct defects or add information. Meanwhile, document expiration dates must continue to be monitored.

Provisional Residency Awarded

Provisional residency status is official when the foreign national is presented with the Provisional Residency Card. The Immigration Department will notify the attorney of record that the final papers are ready, and the foreign national must appear again before the Immigration Department to receive the official card. The date of the official card signifies the date of residency status, effective for one year, and non-renewable. Upon expiration, the foreign national may apply for permanent residency.

Second Step: Permanent Residency

Application for permanent residency requires an updated medical exam at the Immigration Department, and payment of a late penalty at the rate of 1000 Dominican pesos per month from the date of the expiration of the provisional residency until the date the application is admitted. The results of the new exam, the Provisional Residency card, and other documents prepared by a Dominican attorney are submitted to the Immigration Department. If admitted, the Department will issue a Letter of Deposit within six months from the date of admission. This Letter entitles the foreign national to a Permanent Residency card, and the foreign national must again personally appear before the Immigration Department to receive the card. This card is effective for two years, and unlike provisional residency, is renewable for a fee at the Immigration Department an unlimited number of times. Renewal periods can be from two years to ten years in two-year increments, and the longer the renewal period, the greater the renewal fee. There is no obligation to become a Dominican citizen.

The Time Required to Obtain Residency

Although the official process for residency involves up to six months to obtain provisional residency, one-year to wait before applying for permanent residency, and up to six months to obtain permanent residency, the actual time for obtaining the Permanent Residency card will vary depending on:

a) the time the foreign national needs to collect and authenticate documents,
b) the time for a Dominican attorney to prepare local documents once the foreign national's documents are received, and
c) the time required to provide additional information to the Immigration Department, if requested, which could involve authenticating additional documents from the foreign national's country of origin.

EXPEDITED RESIDENCY

Law 171-07, enacted July 13, 2007, acknowledges the benefit of foreign investments to the general and economic well-being of the Dominican people and nation. Foreign nationals meeting certain criteria can acquire residency status within forty-five working days from the date an application is admitted for inspection at the Immigration Department (Decree No. 950-01).

Eligibility Criteria

Property owners with rental income, investors, and retirees are eligible to apply for residency on an expedited basis if certain income requirements and other specific criteria are met. The term used to describe this status is "Investment Residency," and is not always easy to obtain. The foreign national must submit the same documents required for the normal residency process, and additional documents that evidence the foreign national's eligibility for Investment Residency.

Property Owner with Rental Income

a) Income may be derived from rental property anywhere in the world.
b) Income must be a minimum of US$2000 per month. An additional income of US$250 per month per minor in the immediate family and spouse accompanying the applicant must be added.
c) Proof of rental income evidenced by an official document such as a lease must be certified, authenticated, and translated into Spanish for submission to the Immigration Department.

Investor Criteria

a) The investment must be US$200,000 or more.
b) The investment may be direct or indirect, for example, a real estate transaction, a deposit in a bank account, or an investment in a project in the Dominican Republic.
c) The investment must be registered in the Dominican Republic, evidenced by a Certificate of Investment. Regulation 214-04 on Foreign Investment Registration stipulates the criteria for registering investments with the Department of Export and Investments (CEI-RD). The CEI-RD issues a Certificate of Investment approximately one month from the date of application, and the Certificate must be regularly renewed. The holder of a valid Certificate of Investment can sponsor immediate family members, if an individual, or company employees, if a corporation, for expedited residency.

Retiree Criteria

a) Income must come from a public or private plan providing retirement income.
b) Income must be at least US$1,500 per month. An additional income of US$250 per month per minor in the immediate family and spouse accompanying the applicant must be added.
c) Proof of retirement income must be certified by the plan provider, authenticated, and translated into Spanish for submission to the Immigration Department.

Processing Time and Residency Validity

Although the time for the expedited process for residency is set at forty-five days, the actual length of the time required to obtain the Investment Residency card will depend on the time needed to authenticate documents in the country of origin, take the medical exam, and prepare local documents for submission to the Immigration Department.

Investment Residency is valid for one year. One benefit is that within six months of obtaining this status, the foreign national may apply for "Investment Citizenship."One benefit is that within six months of obtaining this status, the foreign national may apply for "Investment Citizenship." If citizenship is not sought, the foreign national has the option of applying for permanent residency.

CITIZENSHIP

Anyone eighteen or older may apply for citizenship. Like all countries, citizenship is granted at the government's discretion. The particular situation of the foreign national dictates the application route. The three most common avenues are as (i) a child born in another country to a Dominican citizen, (ii) a spouse of a Dominican citizen, or (iii) a resident.

Birth

Under the Constitution, a child born to a Dominican citizen in another country is a Dominican national and entitled to citizenship. The choice of Dominican citizenship is optional and not automatic; it requires an intentional act by the person upon reaching the age of eighteen or after, and includes filing formal papers with the authorities. Documents required are the original birth certificates of the applicant and of the Dominican parent(s), and a copy of the parent's Dominican issued identification card (Cédula de Identidad Personal).

Spouse

A foreign national who legally marries a Dominican national may apply for citizenship after six months of marriage, no matter the location of the marriage. The foreign spouse must provide an authenticated and translated copy of the marriage certificate and the documents shown below under Residents, with some variations.

Resident

A foreign national with Permanent or Investment Residency status may apply for citizenship after the prescribed waiting periods of two years for permanent residency and six months for investment residency. Residency status must be active to apply for citizenship. The documents required for citizenship are: an authenticated and translated copy of the birth certificate from the foreign national's country of origin; the original and colored copies of the foreign national's passport; photos of the foreign national in a prescribed format; the renewed residency card; and an affidavit prepared by a Dominican attorney and signed by the foreign national.

The Citizenship Procedure

Once the proper documents for one of the above cases are ready, the application for citizenship is filed with the Department of Interior and the procedure continues as follows:

The Interview. Approximately two weeks after filing, the foreign national will be called to appear personally before the Department of Interior in the Dominican Republic for an interview, conducted solely in Spanish. The questions and answers can be reviewed before the interview.

The Oath. Within five months after the interview, the foreign national will be summoned to personally take the oath of citizenship, granted and signed by the President of the Dominican Republic.

Birth Certificate and Identification. Approximately two months after taking the oath, the foreign national will be issued a Dominican birth certificate, and be permitted to obtain a Dominican identification card (Cédula de Identidad Personal). The foreign national must appear personally to obtain the identification card from the issuing government office. With the identification card and evidence of citizenship, the new citizen is entitled to apply for a Dominican passport, a separate but relatively simple process.


GUZMÁN ARIZA ON IMMIGRATION

Guzmán Ariza is the premier law firm in the Dominican Republic for immigration with a vibrant practice serving Fortune 500 clients such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, The Gap, Kraft Foods, etc. With one of our national offices located in the capital city, we have convenient access to the Immigration Department and assist company executives, investors and retirees seeking residency or citizenship. We perform regular and personal checks on the status of every application to provide clients with immediate notice when papers are ready.

Our immigration practice also extends internationally. For clients seeking immigration services in the United States, we partner with Malcolm-Cisneros [link] to obtain immigrant and non-immigrant visas and address other special concerns. For the rest of the world, we use our exclusive Dominican membership in the selective State Capital Group to harness the expertise of a global network of over 145 top-tier law firms to tackle complex multi-state immigration issues for multinational clients

Whether your immigration needs are in the Dominican Republic or abroad, Guzmán Ariza is experienced, connected, and located right where you need us.



1 However, some signatories of the Hague Convention (Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands) have raised objections to the accession of the Dominican Republic. Documents from these jurisdictions, therefore, must still be authenticated through the Dominican Consulate.

Immigration Law in Dominican Republic