By: Patrick Haller
Brazil makes it difficult. Costa Rica is complex but straightforward. Colombia requires a lot of paperwork as does Argentina. Mexico and Chile reputedly provide a smooth road by comparison to the others. We are talking about immigration procedures in Latin America. Navigating through the sometimes confusing, often confounding, maze of immigration regulation can be frustrating at best. Nearshore Americas examines what is involved with obtaining and keeping, work-related visas across Latin America.
A business visa is not required if the person is entering Argentina for less than 90-days, however, longer periods will require the applicant to present documents at the “Dirección Nacional de Migraciones” (National Immigration Office).
The employee must sign the contract in the presence of the Consul. In the case of intra-company transfers, the employee must present a letter from the employer in the US or other country to verify they are currently employed by the company and that they will be working for a parent, affiliate, subsidiary or branch office of the US, or other country, employer in Argentina.
Martin D. Fischetti, Chief Human Capital Officer, Neoris, Inc. advised that the US State Department reviews US immigration policy often and recently revoked the visa waiver status for Argentinean citizens entering to the US. Therefore, Argentina has applied the same rules to US citizens going to Argentina. However, the US State Department website does not advise of this change and it could not be independently verified although, as of December 20th, 2009 Argentina established an entry request fee for US citizens which is based on reciprocity. This fee is valid for multiple entries over a period of 10 years.
“To get an American to work in Brazil,” said Fischetti, “takes ten times more, and more money than the other way around. In dealing with a global economy you want to make sure that you have access to your resources in the US for the world.”
One of the reasons that Brazil is so restrictive, observed Atul Vashistha, Chairman of Neo Group, is that the Brazilian government is very protective of jobs in for Brazilians, and they fear that jobs could be lost to the countries of origin of temporary workers. They have also established policies which mirror those which Brazilians have to comply with when travelling to the US or Europe, including a lengthy visa process. “Most Latin American countries manage immigration on a multilateral agreement, for example, the UN agreement which is managed within common standards,” Fischetti says. “Brazil manages on a bilateral agreement. From an American perspective it is sometimes an outrage. They base it on ‘you do it to me, I will do it to you.’”
This reactive approach is shortsighted and threatens to undermine Brazil’s ability to provide enough qualified workers for the IT sector which, according to Vashistha, currently has a shortage of 100,000 people (even though the government has launched three programs to increase the production of qualified candidates for the sector). However, during a recent visit to Brazil, Vashistha recalled he heard some positive things from the Trade Minister indicating that changes are being made to the immigration policy. But, “we know that the government policy changes a lot slower than the economy,” Vashistha said.
Brazilian labor laws also dictate that companies must ensure that at least two-thirds of their personnel are Brazilians, and that the total sum of salaries paid to Brazilian employees must be more than twice the amount paid to foreigners.
Foreigners entering Brazil for a business trip, except when the trip involves the provision of technical assistance, are eligible for a temporary visa. With this type of visa, the foreigner cannot receive any form of payment from the Brazilian company, will remain on the foreign company payroll, and will be rendering services on behalf of the foreign company.
Chilean business or investment visas are granted to people starting or operating an existing business in Chile. These visas are granted per fiscal year. While the visa is initially easy enough to obtain for the first year, the immigration offices view renewal applicants with more scrutiny. Applicants must prove that their business is legitimate, vital and useful to the Chilean economy.
David Murphy, LIDAR Supervisor at terra remote sensing in Valparaiso immigrated to Chile from Canada. The company enlisted the services of a registered accountant who was familiar with the processes and kept “all the forms in check” in order to obtain Murphy’s work visa.
This was a smart decision, since Murphy observed several other foreigners who tried to do it alone and fell into the bureaucratic underpinnings, wherein the agents don’t advise applicants of all the documents needed at one time, causing a pile of red tape to build up. “After about 200,000 Chilean pesos and three months I was approved and had the RUT,” said Murphy. “It is vital to get that RUT but you have to jump through the hoops. You can come in and get employed and then go through the procedure.”
The Chilean Immigration Office processes all applications and makes visa decisions. A crucial step is securing an employment contract that has to be submitted with the other paperwork. It is possible to enter Chile on a 90 day tourist visa that can extend while the work visa documents are being processed. It is illegal to work and be paid in Chile without a work visa, or permission to work given while a visa is being processed. The cost depends on the applicant’s nationality, and the work visa is generally issued for the length of the employment contract, for a maximum period of five years.
Vashistha observed that one of the challenges with applying for a visa in Colombia is that, “Employers have to guarantee that they will repatriate the employee due to any legal situation.” There is also an onerous burden of paperwork. The Colombian visa also acts in a similar fashion to the L-1 visa issued in the US, where a great deal of focus is put on the employer who bears a significant amount of the risk and responsibility associated with the employee being in the country. Vashistha also noted that the paperwork requirements will most likely ease as the FTA with the US is enacted.
US citizens only need a valid US passport, and not a visa for travel to Colombia that is for less than 60 days. Longer visits, or extended stays, such as for business purposes, requires the acquisition of the appropriate visa.
According to Tomás Rodríguez, COO Isthmus Inc. an outsourcing company that hires foreign nationals as part of its strategic plan, the immigration process is complex but well defined and easy to follow, “once you have the experience to deal with it, hiring legal assistance is definitely a recommended way to expedite the process and help you as a company to focus on your business.” The process, as outlined by Rodríguez, is rather straightforward:
- The organization needs to be registered as an authorized company in the migration government entity (Migracion y Extranjeria)
- The candidate needs to provide standard paperwork.
Just because Mexico and the US are part of NAFTA, share a vast border, and a long history of cross-migration, doesn’t mean that the Mexican authorities make many special concessions when it comes to immigration.
In addition to Tourist Permits and Permits to conduct business on a temporary basis (such as buying real estate), Mexico issues an FM3 Visa which is a renewable long term permit granting non-immigrant temporary residency status to the holder, thus allowing them the right to live in Mexico (under terms as set out in the visa). However, it will not lead to permanent residency. The terms of the FM3 visa are determined by the types of activities the applicant intends to conduct while in Mexico, and it will dictate that the holder is restricted to the specific activities which depend on the visa’s classification.
Applicants must prove that they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves while in Mexico and/or a proven steady income. This requirement is looked at on an individual basis and is most commonly determined through examination of bank statements, investment income and/or credit cards. FM3 visas are issued for an initial one-year period and can be renewed for an additional four years. A new FM3 can then be applied for and, if approved, will be issued for a five year period, which is then renewable on annual basis.
FM3 visas can be applied for while in Mexico and in possession of a short-term FMT (Tourist/Business Visitors Visa), or abroad at the Mexican Consulate closest to the applicant’s residence.
Need for Ease
“A key overall theme when it comes to outsourcing,” said Vashistha, “is that it is important for countries to realize that this is the kind of expertise they should be welcoming because it helps to create a professional workforce where the average salary is typically higher than other industries.” He continued to say that the paperwork needs to be streamlined and that such immigration brings a multinational presence and broader employment to Latin America. “What we hear is that for every ITO/BPO job created in a country, it creates another five to eight jobs in other companies.”