Panama´s foreign population is quickly rising. Many foreigners are coming to Panama for more than a brief visit. For 2009 work permits issued to foreigners in Panama rose by 58.2%. Many of this is due to the arrival of multinational companies with technology requirements for which no experts are available in Panama. This makes it imperative for the companies to
bring qualified workers from abroad. This includes the Canal expansion project which also makes Panama a good job market for foreigners for the next few years. In fact recruiters from the ACP (Panama Canal Authority) are already advertising abroad for some engineering specialties required for the Canal Expansion and for which Panama has insufficient number of qualified personnel. This is similar to the process that occurred when the United States built the Canal at the beginning of the XX century.
The Ministry of Labor and Development has statistics indicating that in December 2009 a total of 12 thousand 118 labor permits were processed, over 4 thousand more than in 2008. Another reason foreigners are coming to Panama is actually to train Panamanians in disciplines in which Panamanian workers are weak.
Panama allows foreigners access to a work permit under very strict conditions and terms. According to MITRADEL (MINISTRY OF LABOR AND DEVELOPMENT) statistics the most common are work permits requested by a foreigner married to a Panamanian national which in 2009 totaled 4,529. In second place are the permits under 10% foreigners which means that for every ten Panamanians a company can hire one foreigner or 10% of the staff of a company can be foreign which totaled 3,712. In distant second are both Undefined permits 1,331 and those under the Marrackech Agreement 1,179. There are several others categories however all of them require the assistance of an attorney as the paperwork is quite extensive and many times needs to be done simultaneously in several ministries. In addition to this the SNM (National Migration Service) is a difficult entity where many of the governments technological advances have not yet taken effect so a lawyer is very helpful.
The SNM daily services some 200 persons and according to their statistics as of end November 2009 one million 212 thousand 995 foreigners had entered Panama and some one million 22 thousand 892 had exited the country. Leading the pack were US citizens comprising 196 thousand 428 and Colombians comprising 164 thousand 826.
Some of these American citizens entering Panama are seeking retired or pensioner status as Panama truly has one of the best retirement programs available and most of the benefits of the program are available for women over 55 and men over 60 no matter their nationality or status in Panama. These include discounts in all sorts of services and items geared towards helping these citizens live within their pensions which in Panama are around 40% less than the salary when they were working. Some of the benefits include 10% to 15% discount in health care and health care items, medicines are also discounted for senior citizens, entertainment, restaurants, among many other things.
Surprisingly some of the Colombians coming into Panama are coming for a not widely publicized reason: Universities. Panama has several American universities who through mutual association agreements or franchise agreements have set up satellite campuses in Panama such as the University of Louisville, College of Notre Dame, Florida State University, among others. Many Colombians come to Panama and study their first year in the campus in Panama then transfer into the US campus taking advantage of the savings accorded to residents of Panama. In some cases these savings could reach up to 30% in tuition. On the other hand Panama also receives visits from students from US and European universities studying tropical diseases or tropical plants who wish to take advantage of the benefits accorded by the City of Knowledge which has its own visa category. Panama in addition to being a transport and logistics hub could also become an education and research hub.
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