Costa Ricans have been taking part in sham marriages with Chinese nationals that permit the latter to obtain residency in the Central American country, a new report said.
The process is relatively easy — a Costa Rican citizen signs a marriage certificate delivered by a middleman and subsequently receives a previously agreed upon sum.
One of the aforementioned Costa Ricans is “Maria,” 46, who married a Chinese man for 100,000 colones ($175). She lived in San José and had mouths to feed at the time.
“We did not have anything to eat,” she told BBC. “They just showed me a photo of the Chinese guy and told me: ‘Miss María, you are getting married to this Chinese man.’”
Maria received the money with an understanding that she will soon be divorced. When that happened, a cycle started in the family; as it turned out, she married another Chinese man — so did some of her daughters and her partner.
Gisela Yockchen, director of Costa Rica’s migration office, referred to the situation as a “black market” run by “mafias” who operate in various ways. There are those who go the same route as for Maria’s, while others steal identities to marry them to foreigners looking for residency or citizenship in the country. Still, foreigners themselves can be scammed by these groups, as in the case of a Chinese man who unknowingly signed a marriage certificate which he thought was an application for residency.
While the problem apparently persists to this date, it has been addressed to some extent by a 2010 law that sentenced perpetrators of fake marriages to five years in prison. In addition, permanent residency has not been immediately granted to foreigners marrying Costa Ricans. Instead, they apply for residency permits renewed annually, proving cohabitation with their spouse. After three years, they are then eligible to apply for permanent residency.
Chinese people have been migrating to Costa Rica since 1855. The first group consisted of 77 migrants from Guangzhou who arrived to work at the Panama Railway. Since then, closer relations with China have helped facilitate the country’s development. President Luis Guillermo Solis told Xinhua last year: “There are so many (bilateral) projects that are making a difference to people’s lives.
“Costa Rica is a country that identifies itself, in the first article of its Constitution, as multicultural and multiethnic, meaning we recognize we are the outcome of the presence of many peoples and many cultural traditions, one of the most important of which is perhaps the Chinese.”