In May of 2011 Mexico’s Immigration law was reformed. Some of the reform entered into effect immediately while other parts did not enter into effect until the corresponding Rules to the Law were published, which did not happen until the 28th of September 2012. In short, we are just now starting to see the Immigration authorities push for the full application of the new law. 
The reform of the law was based on the following principal reasons: 
As of the date of this document not all of the guidelines have yet been published. We expect that the immigration authority, during the next 2 - 3 years, will be redefining many of the procedures for acquiring visas and it will not be uncommon to get conflicting issues from two different authorities in separate immigration offices. Also, the tax laws and other laws and regulations will need to be modified to take into consideration the changes made to the immigration law. As further information is available, we will be reporting it. 
This Article is principally directed toward individuals of US and Canadian nationality and how the reforms affect their immigration status in Mexico. It covers the principal topics and most common situations. 

The Major Chances at a Glance

The Old Law

The old law divided foreigners into 3 classes:
Non-immigrants (FM3’s): people with the intention of coming to Mexico but expecting to return to their country. This category has now largely disappeared.
Immigrants (FM-2’s): people coming to Mexico with the intention of becoming an immigrant. We need to remember that prior to five years ago acquiring Mexican nationality was quite restricted and the “FM-2 to immigrant” procedure was what most people used if they ended up living in Mexico.
Immigrated: people who had gone through the five years of FM-2’s and got an immigrant card.
Under both the FM-3’s and FM-2’s there were many subclasses. In total there were over 30 types of visas and rules for each type, which caused many conflicts as to what certain visas allowed and did not allow foreigners to do. 

The New Law

The new law recognizes three manners in which foreigners can be legally in Mexico, these being:
Visitor: there are six types of visitors. Of the six, the tourist visa you get on the plane is a “Visitor” visa. These visas are limited to short terms stays (usually no more than 180 days) and are granted in the understanding that you are coming to “visit”.
Temporary Residents: this is for foreigners that want to remain in the country for a term of up to four years.  Under this permit you can acquire the ability to work for pay (remuneration) and you have the right to “Family Unity”, (which will be explained further on). Under the old FM-2 and FM-3 you had to renew the visa each year and they were good for up to five years. Now if you have any FM-3 or FM-2 they will most likely turn it into a Temporary Resident Visa for the time that is left up to the four years allowed. If you go beyond that, you will be asked if you want a Permanent Resident permit. Note: There is also a Temporary Resident permit for students that allows the person to remain for the time it takes them to finish their studies.
Permanent Resident: this is a visa granted for an indefinite term. This is very similar to the old “immigrant” status. The following people can solicit a Permanent Resident permit: Family members of Mexicans or other Permanent Residents under the “Family Unity” dispositions—see further on.

Family Unity 

This is a new concept that was not in the previous law. It is based on the international treaties that look to preserve the family as a unit. Under this new law the concept of Family Unity is strongly protected and recognizes that Mexican nationals by birth, as well as Temporary and Permanent Residents have the right to preserve the Family Unity and acquire the necessary documents so that their family members can be with them legally in Mexico. 
Much debate surrounds this issue due to the fact that it makes acquiring a visa to Mexico very easy for large numbers of people that previously would not have qualified for visas, and which is expected to cause some large amounts of people to immigrate to Mexico. 
Furthermore, the old law required foreigners to acquire permits to marry Mexican nationals. The new law does not and gives grants anyone married to a Mexican national the right to have a visa to stay and work in Mexico. 
The old law also gave the authority “discretionary” powers to grant or deny visas. The new law obligates authorities to observe the right of Family Unity and grant the corresponding visas. This will dramatically change the dynamics of immigration to Mexico in the coming years.

Procedure to Acquire Visas

The procedure to acquire a visa has changed. The following is the general rule as well as some of the exceptions to this rule. 

General Rule

You first need a VISA to enter Mexico and if you want to stay longer than the time allowed to Visitors, you need to acquire a Residence status. 
All visas are granted by the Mexican Consulates outside of Mexico (Visitors, Temporary Resident and Permanent Resident). This means that all visas (Visitor, Temporary Resident and Permanent Resident) must be applied for in the consoler office and not at the immigration office in Mexico (Note: we all use to get our visas changed over here in Mexico). If you get a Temporary or Permanent Resident visa, you must then get the local immigration office in Mexico where you live to give you your resident card. There are a few exceptions where you are not required to first acquire a VISA from the consulate, and these are as follows:  

Exceptions to the general rule

For Visitor Visas (for tourists) If you are from a country that Mexico has “suppressed” the requirement of a pre-approved visa, you do not have to go to the Mexican Consulate to get a Visitor’s Visa.  Both Canada and the US are countries that do not required pre-authorized Visitors Visa from the consulate, you simply get them on the plane on the way down or at the border. 
If you have a Visitor Visa you can no longer change it over to another type of visa (Temporary Resident or Permanent Resident) while in Mexico, except if: 
Temporary Residents can change to Permanent Resident while in Mexico. If you presently have an “immigrant” card that was granted under the old law, the local immigration offices in Mexico should change it over to a Permanent Resident card without having to go out of the country.

General Issues of Interest

Here are some points of interest regarding the new law:
As a last note it is important to mention that the immigration authority will look to limit granting Temporary or Permanent Resident Visas. They will ask the question “Do you really need one or can you just use the Visitor Visa?”. Unless there is a reason to go through the process of getting a Temporary or Permanent Visa, we recommend that you just use the Visitor Visa. However there will be several cases in which having either a Temporary Resident or Permanent Resident visa will make sense. We can go over you particular situation. 
This article was written by David W. Connell of Connell & Associates. For more information send an email to info@mexicolaw.com.mx or visit www.mexicolaw.com.mx. All rights reserved.