Foreigners living in Mexico under resident immigration permits run the risk losing their status unless they go strictly by the book every time they exit and reenter the country, Florencia Vega Mendez, head of the Chapala branch of the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), is warning.
Incidents of local expats getting downgraded to 180-day tourist visas are piling up, with five cases reported just in the past week.
International travel that can be hectic and stressful under the best of circumstances tends to become more intense in busy holiday seasons. Understanding and complying with your INM obligations will save you from getting entangled in bureaucratic boondoggles, penalties, time delays, lost flights and added expenses that could turn an upcoming trip abroad into a Christmas nightmare.
Persons holding temporary (RT) or permanent (RP) resident visas should think of their wallet-size green cards as shields against snags at INM checkpoints. Revocation of residency most commonly stems from errors committed in processing the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM), a standard form that must be submitted individually by all foreigners entering and exiting Mexico.
The FMM comprises two sections. Immigration officers collect the top portion upon entry to Mexico and the shorter bottom part at exit points.
For tourists traveling beyond the border zone the short part of the form serves as the official visitor permit that is stamped with date of entry and normally marked as valid for 180 days. It should be kept in a safe place and turned in to IMN upon departure prior to the expiration date.
RT or RP visa holders fill out an FMM when leaving the country. When traveling by air, the lower segment must be presented at the INM desk along with the residency green card and a valid passport to get a boarding pass. Save the top part for the return trip.
To avoid being unwittingly reclassified as a tourist when returning to Mexico, follow a few important tips. Hand write “Residente Temporal” or “Residente Permanente” across the top of each section of the FMM. To fill in the information boxes appearing in the upper portion, note Mexico as country of residence (box #7), the number shown on the back of the INM green card (box #8), and otro/other (instead of tourism) for purpose of trip (box #9).
Once off the plane, pay close attention as you go through the INM station. Immigration officials often assume that all foreigners are tourists. So first of all show your green card and verbally state “soy residente.” Then hand over your passport with the top portion of the FMM.
If for some reason you use the full FMM handed out onboard the plane, make sure the officer does not give you the bottom part with markings in the gray section for official use indicating visitor status and validity for a specific number of days. Otherwise you will be registered as a tourist in the INM database, and your residency status automatically cancelled.
(See next week’s edition for guidelines on obtaining the exit-entry permit required for persons whose residency permits are still in process and INM office closings during the holidays.)