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Sponsored immigration

New hires

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Under immigration law, any foreign national that intends to undertake work activities in Colombia must request a migrant visa (M visa) for working purposes or a visa under a different category that allows them to work (eg, an M visa for spouses of Colombian nationals, a Mercosur visa or a resident visa). The M visa for working purposes is granted for foreign nationals who enter Colombia by virtue of a labour relation or a service agreement with an entity domiciled in Colombia. It is also granted to artistic, sports or cultural groups entering the country for public performances.

M visas for working purposes are issued for a maximum term of three years and allow multiple entries. They expire automatically if the foreign national is absent from the country for a period that exceeds 180 continuous days and may be renewed as many times as needed, but each visa will be granted for a maximum period of three years in accordance with the term of the labour contract and assessment of the submitted documents.

The M visa for working purposes must be issued before the foreign national renders services locally or becomes part of a local payroll.

The spouse or permanent companion, parents and children of the foreign national who holds an M visa for working purposes may obtain a temporary beneficiary visa, which allows them to enter Colombia to study or engage in home activities, but does not entitle them to work.

A foreign national who holds an M visa for working purposes will be allowed to perform only the activity authorised in the visa and only for the company authorised in the visa. If there is any change to the individual’s working activity or position, the individual and the sponsoring company must inform the immigration authorities in writing detailing the change and, if required, request the visa to be amended.

To apply for an M visa, the applicant must meet all the immigration requirements provided for this type of visa. 

Intra-company transfers

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

For intra-company transfers, the foreign individual must enter into new employment agreements with the local entity and secure a visa that allows them to work. Please see the response to the question above regarding sponsored work visas. 

Do any special rules govern secondments?

No. 

Sponsor requirements and considerations

What are the eligibility and procedural requirements for employers to sponsor foreign employees?

To sponsor a visa, the entity must be incorporated in Colombia and must comply with certain financial requirements. To be eligible, the entity must have an average bank balance equivalent to at least 100 statutory monthly minimum salaries (for 2018, Ps78,124.200), over a six-month period.

Sponsoring entities are responsible for sponsored individuals during their stay in Colombia, which means that they must be in a position to cover relocation expenses on termination of the visa, irrespective of the cause of termination. 

What ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements apply to sponsors?

Employers (entities, institutions or individuals) must inform the Special Administrative Unit of Migration Colombia (UAEMC) of the hiring and termination of foreign nationals, as well as the admittance and leave of foreign visitors, within 15 calendar days. This should be done electronically, through the Information System to Report Foreigners (SIRE) platform provided by the UAEMC. To provide reports on SIRE, the entity must have an active account on the platform.

Foreign nationals must notify the UAEMC about any change of residence or domicile within 15 calendar days by means of a written communication.

Employers must inform the Ministry of Work about the hiring and termination of foreign employees and contractors within 120 calendar days upon hiring, and 30 calendar days upon termination. This must be reported electronically, through the Registry of Foreign Workers in Colombia platform provided by the Ministry of Work.

These records must be kept for at least five years, during which time such records may be audited by relevant government entities. 

In what circumstances (if any) must the employer submit to resident labour market testing before hiring or transferring foreign employees? Do any exemptions apply?

N/A. 

Are there any annual quota limits or restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by foreign nationals?

No. 

Are there any immigration exemptions or other special schemes for shortage occupations in your jurisdiction?

In the event of shortage occupations in Colombia and depending on the citizenship of the foreign individuals, they may benefit from visa waivers by obtaining a temporary visitor permit. 

How long does it typically take to obtain a sponsored visa? Is expedited visa processing available?

The visa application process may be expedited if this is requested personally by the visa applicant before the Visa Office in Bogota. Under this expedited processing, it is likely that the visa would be granted on the same day. 

What rules govern the hiring of foreign third-party contractors?

If third-party contractors intend to work in Colombia, the sponsored visa and work visa rules apply. 

What are the penalties for sponsor non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

Non-compliance with Colombian immigration regulations can lead to the imposition of penalties on both the employer and the employee. Penalties include:

  • fines between the amounts of half the minimum wage and fifteen times the minimum wage (for 2018, between Ps390,621 and Ps11,718.630); and
  • in some cases the deportation of the foreign individual.

Are there any other special considerations for sponsors in your jurisdiction?

No.

General employee requirements

Must sponsored employees meet any language requirements?

No.

Are sponsored employees subject to any medical checks?

No.

Must sponsored employees meet any medical or other insurance requirements?

No. Before commencing employment, foreign individuals must be enrolled on local social security systems

Are sponsored employees subject to any security or background checks?

Normally yes, this process is directly conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Are sponsored employees subject to any restrictions on studying or working second or volunteer jobs?

Employees holding an M visa for working purposes may perform only the activities inherent to the position indicated on the visa and only for the stated company. 

Are there any rules or standards governing the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications?

Yes. If the foreign national plans to complete activities in a regulated profession (eg, engineering, medicine and law), they must request a temporary licence or have undergraduate studies validated. The determination of whether a foreign national executes activities that involve professional experience is decided by the relevant professional councils.

What are the penalties for employee non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

Non-compliance with Colombian immigration regulations can lead to the imposition of penalties on both the employer and the employee. Penalties include:

  • fines between the amounts of half the minimum wage and fifteen times the minimum wage (for 2018, between Ps390,621 and Ps11,718.630); and
  • in some cases the deportation of the foreign individual.

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