General framework

Legislation

What primary and secondary legislation governs immigration in your jurisdiction?

Executive Order No. 1094 of 1975 (Rules Applicable to Foreigners in Chile) and Decree 597 of 1984 (Regulation of Foreigners) constitute the primary legal framework that governs immigration in Chile. Both set the standards, requirements, specific prohibitions and sanctions that regulate the entry, residence and employment rights of foreigners. Other decrees issued by the Ministry of the Interior play a secondary and complementary role in modifying immigration procedures, including the establishment of new visas, and the rights of refugees.

International agreements

Has your jurisdiction concluded any international agreements affecting immigration (eg, free trade agreements or free movement accords)?

The Undersecretary of the Interior endorsed the principles set out in the Declaration of Montevideo in Circular Letter No. 264645 of 2009, which expedites the visa process for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to become temporary residents of Chile for two years. Additionally, nationals from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay do not require a passport to enter Chile as tourists.

Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers? Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

The Foreigners and Migration Department at the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for enforcing immigration laws. With respect to visa issuance and enforcement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs grants official residency status, visas and tourist cards to aliens outside Chile, while the Ministry of the Interior issues and extends visas and tourist cards to aliens already in Chile. The Ministry of the Interior is also responsible for maintaining a national register of foreigners, issuing penalties for non-compliance with immigration laws and normalising individual immigration status.

A decision to refuse an application for a temporary or definitive residence permit can be appealed with the authority that issued the decision or at the appeals court.

Government policy

In broad terms what is your government’s policy towards business immigration?

Chile is open to ordered and safe immigration. In particular, the current migration policy grants special recognition to the following:

  • freedom of residence, movement, thought and religion;
  • importance of integration to Chilean culture;
  • equality of rights and duties;
  • access to education, health and employment rights (without any discrimination based on residence);
  • non-discrimination;
  • promotion of regular immigration; and
  • priority of residence for foreign citizens with family ties to Chilean citizens.

Short-term transfers

Visas

In what circumstances is a visa necessary for short-term travellers? How are short-term visas obtained?

Transferees need a visa subject to employment agreement, even for short-term assignments. Exceptionally, executives are allowed to enter Chile as tourists and may later request a special permit from the Chilean Immigration Authority to work as a tourist for a period no longer than 30 calendar days (with the option to apply for renewals for the same period, as long as the tourist authorisation remains valid).

Restrictions

What are the main restrictions on a business visitor?

Business visitors must enter Chile as tourists. The maximum length of time that a tourist permit is valid for is 90 calendar days. A single renewal is allowed for up to 90 calendar days.

A business visitor shall provide evidence to the immigration officers in the border that he or she has sufficient financial means to exist in Chile during the planned stay. This is usually complemented with a letter of invitation of a Chilean company, if the business visitor has a defined agenda in the country.

Tourists shall be in possession of a valid passport when entering Chile and do not require a consular visa. Citizens from countries with no diplomatic relations with Chile must previously register their passports before the Chilean consulate or whoever represents it, and also hold a return ticket to their home country or to any other country they are permitted to enter, and with that in hand, the consulate will issue a ‘tourism visa’. Citizens of certain South American countries are exempt from the requirement of being in possession of a valid passport for entering Chile.

In some exceptional cases and for reciprocity matters, the citizens of certain countries must pay a fee when entering Chile, which varies in every case.

Further, business visitors shall only conduct business meetings, perform visits, negotiations and business arrangements, and may not render services for a Chilean or foreign company for a wage (even if the payment for the service is made abroad) unless a special permit to work as tourist is requested from the Chilean Immigration Authority.

Short-term training

Is work authorisation or immigration permission needed to give or receive short-term training?

Yes, individuals that give short-term training must have a special permit to work as tourists (for training that will take less than 90 days) or a visa subject to employment agreement. Individuals who will receive short-term training can enter Chile as tourists.

Transit

Are transit visas required to travel through your country? How are these obtained? Are they only required for certain nationals?

There is no need to obtain any special permit or transit visa to travel through Chile.

Visa waivers and fast-track entry

Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?

Foreigners of countries with whom Chile maintains diplomatic ties, who enter the country in pursuit of leisure, health, education, business or religious purposes, and excluding immigration, residence or gainful activity purposes, qualify as tourists and, as such, can enter and stay in Chile for up to 90 days without applying for a visa or paying any administrative fees. The Visa Tech programme enables foreigners who wish to work in Chile’s technology industry to apply for a visa subject to employment agreement that is processed in 15 days, in a fast-track process.

Long-term transfers

Categories

What are the main work and business permit categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?

The main work permit used in Chile is the visa subject to employment agreement. This type of visa allows the foreign worker to render personal services for a company with domicile in Chile.

This visa, as indicated by its name, is subject to the employment agreement that causes it, and therefore the visa holder will only be permitted to render services for the hiring company. The termination of the employment agreement is cause for the termination of the visa.

Members of the family who arrive in the country with the foreign worker are also granted the same visa as dependants of the holder, which prevents them from working in Chile. To provide paid services in Chile or start any economic activity, dependants are obliged to change their migratory status to a new condition independent of the visa holder, that suits the intended activity that they plan to carry out.

Procedures

What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions? At what stage can work begin?

In the case of the visa subject to employment agreement, there are two mechanisms for obtaining it.

The first mechanism is to request the visa at any Chilean consulate abroad. The process takes approximately 30 business days to be completed and requires the electronic submission of information and several of the worker’s documents (such as health certificates, family ties, etc), plus an employment agreement duly signed by the employer’s representatives, which shall be signed by the foreign executive before the Chilean consul. Once the visa is granted, a certification is stamped in the alien’s passport by the consul. The document is then delivered solely to the foreign citizen at the consulate. The foreign employee is allowed to start rendering services once the visa has been granted, so this alternative allows entry into the country and work to commence from that moment.

The second mechanism is to apply directly to the Immigration Authority in Chile. The process takes between 90 and 150 calendar days, and requires the employee to submit, by post, personal information and an employment agreement signed by both parties before a Chilean notary. In principle, the employee is allowed to start rendering services once the visa has been granted and it has been stamped in the passport; however, upon filing for the visa, a special permit to work can be requested for the time the visa is being processed (this takes approximately 60 to 90 calendar days to be approved and the cost is 50 per cent of the visa fee).

Period of stay

What are the general maximum (and minimum) periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?

There is no minimum period of stay under the visa subject to employment agreement; however, if the work period will be less than 90 calendar days, an alternative is to request the visa subject to employment agreement from a Chilean consulate abroad or, alternatively, to enter into the country as a tourist and then file for a special permit to work as a tourist (this permit can only be requested directly in Chile).

Visas subject to employment agreements are granted for a maximum period of two years, and can be renewed for the same maximum period as many times as needed. However, on completion of the first two years (or any of the extension periods), the foreign worker can file for a permanent residence permit that will allow him or her to remain in the country indefinitely and work freely for any employer.

Processing time

How long does it typically take to process the main categories?

If the visa subject to employment agreement is requested at a Chilean consulate, the visa process takes approximately 30 business days to complete and, if the submission is made in Chile, it will take 90 to 150 calendar days.

Staff benefits

Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?

In broad terms, it is not necessary to grant determined benefits or facilities to secure a work permit, notwithstanding that under the principle of non-discrimination, foreign citizens shall have all the rights and benefits recognised by the Chilean employment law for local employees.

Chilean law provides that, in the case of the visa subject to employment agreement, at the termination of the employment agreement, the employer shall pay the fare of the worker and of any member of his or her family as agreed in the employment contract, to return to his or her country of origin or any third country as agreed by the parties, unless the employee obtains a new visa or is allowed to reside indefinitely in Chile. The employment agreement must contain this obligation in writing, and this is specially supervised by the Chilean Immigration Authority to grant the visa.

Also, in cases of the visa subject to employment agreement, the employment agreement must have a clause indicating that the foreign employee will be affiliated to the Chilean social security system and that the employer will deduct from the salary the social security quotas to finance an old-age pension fund and health insurance. The only exemption to this is for employees who have a university diploma of a professional career or a superior technician diploma, as long as the employee is also affiliated to a social security system abroad that provides coverage in cases of disease, death, disability and old age, in which case the employee can stipulate in the employment agreement his or her continuity in the foreign social security to which he or she is affiliated (in which case the employee will be exempted from contributing to a health and old age pension system, and if done anyway, will be able to withdraw the money saved in an old-age pension fund personal account). This exemption does not extend to unemployment insurance and to insurance for industrial accidents or illness.

Assessment criteria

Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?

Immigration authorities apply objective criteria in the vast majority of cases when approving or denying immigration permits and authorisations. However, a certain amount of flexibility can be applied in exceptional cases (eg, in the case of minor convictions).

High net worth individuals and investors

Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?

Yes, high net worth individuals or investors intending to settle in Chile (or who travel for more than 90 calendar days) can apply for a temporary resident visa as rentiers or investors, which is granted for up to one year and at its termination allows the individual to apply for a permanent residence permit.

In the case of high net worth individuals, such persons must provide evidence of the assets that will finance their living expenses in Chile. In the case of investors, the following should be evidenced:

  • a description of the business project or evidence of the existence of a company;
  • the capital owned by the foreign citizen to be invested or already invested in the company; and
  • the means to finance living costs in Chile.

There is no fast track to process the visa request for these kinds of individuals.

Is there a special route (including fast track) for high net worth individuals for a residence permission route into your jurisdiction?

This case is the same as explained in question 16; there is no special treatment for this kind of individual (except the possibility of applying for a permanent residence permit after one year of residence in Chile).

In any case, Chilean law neither outlines a minimum capital to invest in a company nor requires a minimum term to maintain the investment in Chile.

Highly skilled individuals

Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?

Yes, but only for professionals of the technology sector. In 2017, the investment promotion authority (InvestChile) put in place a special immigration programme known as ‘Visa Tech’, under which a technology company can request a temporary work visa for a candidate; this is processed within 15 business days, provided the following conditions are completed:

  • the foreigner has a professional degree or technical diploma in the areas of science and technology, or the employee is a highlighted individual with experience in innovation;
  • both parties have signed an employment agreement; and
  • the hiring company has sponsorship from any of the following entities:
    • Start Up Chile or Chiletec (for companies that are members of these entities);
    • InvestChile for foreign companies; or
    • Sub secretary of Economy for Chilean companies.

The temporary work visa associated with the Visa Tech programme can only be requested once the employee has entered the country, through the investment promotion authority.

Regarding citizens of countries that must obtain a visa of tourism in Chilean consulates, in reciprocity of the treatment given to Chilean citizens in those countries (see question 6), the Visa Tech programme allows them to request a special tourism visa for business purposes instead of applying for a regular tourism visa, with the sole aim that the candidate for a work position in a sponsored company under this programme can have an expedited entry to Chile. This visa is granted in three business days by the Chilean consulates.

Ancestry and descent

Is there a special route for foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

Children born abroad whose parents are Chilean are considered Chilean.

Foreigners with a relationship with a Chilean (spouse, parent or child) may apply for a temporary residence visa.

Minimum salary

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?

There is no minimum salary requirement for transferees; however, companies need to pay at least the legal minimum monthly salary, which is mandatory for any employee working in the country irrespective of nationality. Notwithstanding this, it is important to consider that immigration authorities take a close look at the level of wages to determine whether the foreign worker and his or her family would be able to pay their way in Chile, and the legal minimum monthly salary should not be considered as a reasonable standard for such purpose.

Resident labour market test

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

Decree 597 requires that the activity or trade that the foreigner offers to undertake in Chile be essential to the country’s development. However, the authorities do not reject visa applications for not meeting this condition. The Ministry of the Interior reserves the right to request a report from associations and professional colleges to certify the essential nature of the work that is offered.

There is no obligation to offer the position locally or to test the labour pool first.

Nevertheless, Chilean employment law states that the staff of companies with more than 25 workers must be composed of not less than 85 per cent Chilean employees. To determine the proportion, the law does not consider foreign specialist technical workers, among other cases.

Shortage occupations

Is there a special route for shortage occupations?

In 2017, InvestChile introduced the Visa Tech special immigration programme, under which a technology company can request a temporary work visa for a candidate; the visa is processed within 15 business days, provided the completion of certain conditions (see question 18).

In the past, the Chilean government has offered special programmes for professionals, technicians and foreigners with desired occupations (eg, elderly care or disaster prevention) to apply for temporary residence visas; however, no such programme is currently available.

Other eligibility requirements

Are there any other main eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in your jurisdiction?

In principle, there are no eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in Chile; however, in the case of doctors and teachers, medical university studies must be validated by the University of Chile and teaching studies by the Education Secretary, except in the case of those countries that have relevant international treaties with Chile.

In the case of those professions that require a university degree under Chilean law to render services of that profession (ie, physicians, engineers, optometrists, journalists, etc), the foreign workers must validate their university degrees at the University of Chile (this is not required when filing for work permission, but the process must be completed to render the services of such profession). Also in the case of engineers, there is an obligation to register the diploma in a public record of engineers managed by the Chilean Engineers Guild.

Third-party contractors

What is the process for third-party contractors to obtain work permission?

In Chile, work permissions must be requested directly by foreign workers and not by companies or other institutions.

On the other hand, there is no problem with an employee hired for a contracting company rendering services in a third company’s premises, as long as the employment relationship between the foreign worker and the contracting company is real, and does not become a de facto employment relationship with the third company.

If the contractor’s employee works in Chile but is paid abroad, it will be necessary to file for a temporary residence visa specially designed for this purpose. Currently, the only way to obtain this permission is to apply for it directly to the Immigration Authority in Chile; it is not yet possible to apply abroad through a Chilean consulate. The process takes between 90 and 150 calendar days, and requires the Chilean company to submit information regarding the foreign employee and the conditions of employment abroad with the contractor, and a description of the services that the person will render in Chile for the foreign company.

In principle, the employee is allowed to start working once the visa has been granted (see question 11).

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Is an equivalency assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?

See question 23.

Extensions and variations

Short-term to long-term status

Can a short-term visa be converted in-country into longer-term authorisations? If so, what is the process?

Chilean law allows the conversion of tourist permits into work permissions. In such a case, the foreigner must request a change of migratory status, with the documents that support the request, to one of the following visa types:

  • a visa subject to employment agreement;
  • a temporary residence visa for professionals and superior level technicians; or
  • a temporary residence visa for employees who work in Chile but will be paid abroad.

Also, changes in family status (marriage to a Chilean citizen or birth of a child in Chile) can form the basis for the request for an extension of a residence permit in Chile.

Long-term extension

Can long-term immigration permission be extended?

In the case of a visa subject to employment agreement, the permission can be extended indefinitely for periods of up to two years in each case, with no limitations. After completion of two years of residence in Chile, the foreign worker is allowed to file for a permanent residence permit, if he or she wishes.

Temporary visas are granted for up to one year, and can be renewed once, also for a one-year term. At its termination, the foreign citizen must opt to file for a permanent residence permit or leave the country.

Exit and re-entry

What are the rules on and implications of exit and re-entry for work permits?

Foreign nationals with working permits do not require an additional authorisation to leave the country at any moment.

Further, re-entry to the country does not affect the visa subject to employment agreement, as long as it remains in force when returning to Chile. The same applies for the temporary residence visa.

The permanent residence permit expires automatically if the foreign citizen remains outside Chile for one full year.

Permanent residency and citizenship

How can immigrants qualify for permanent residency or citizenship?

The main condition to qualify for permanent residency is the period of residence in the country. Foreign nationals who have been granted a visa subject to employment agreement can file for permanent residency after two years in Chile, and those who have been granted a temporary residence visa can file for permanent residency after one year in Chile. Aliens of 18 years or older and holders of permanent residence permission qualify for citizenship after five years of continuous residence in Chile.

End of employment

Must immigration permission be cancelled at the end of employment in your jurisdiction?

Only in the case of the visa subject to employment agreement does the termination of the employment agreement automatically cancel the visa. In that circumstance, the alien is granted a 30-day term in which to request a new visa or leave the country. The employer must notify the Chilean Immigration Authority of the termination of the employment agreement that the visa was granted for within 15 days of its termination, and shall pay the fare of the foreign employee to return to his or her country of origin or any third country as agreed by the parties, unless the employee acquires a new visa or is allowed to reside indefinitely in Chile.

Employee restrictions

Are there any specific restrictions on a holder of employment permission?

Aliens with a visa subject to employment agreement cannot work for an employer other than the sponsor. The alien can change employer after submitting a request to modify the visa subject to employment agreement to the immigration authorities, and in order to work for an additional employer, must change the residence status to a temporary residence visa holder.

Aliens are entitled to study, be promoted and agree changes in salary and working conditions, as long as it does not impair their ability to finance living costs in Chile.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant?

In Chile, dependants of holders of visas subject to employment agreement or temporary residence visas are the spouse, the children of both or either who depend economically on the visa holder and the parents of the visa holder.

There is a migratory category for those foreign individuals whose marriage cannot be recorded before the Chilean Civil Record Authority (eg, same sex marriages) and to the partners of a civil union (whether executed in Chile or abroad), who can directly apply for a temporary residence visa.

Conditions and restrictions

Are dependants automatically allowed to work or attend school?

Dependants can neither work in Chile nor render any paid services. To do so, they must change their migratory status, by requesting any of the above-mentioned work permissions.

Dependants can attend school or university with no limitations.

Access to social benefits

What social benefits are dependants entitled to?

Dependants are entitled to access the same social security benefits as dependants of Chilean workers, of which the most important is to have access to health services for the spouse and minor children (or children of up to 24 years of age, if studying).

However, if the employee has opted to not be affiliated to the Chilean social security system and does not contribute to it (see question 14), dependants will not be entitled to social security benefits. In such case, it is recommended to take out private health insurance that provides cover for the whole family.

Other requirements, restrictions and penalties

Criminal convictions

Are prior criminal convictions a barrier to obtaining immigration permission?

Prior criminal convictions for crimes punished with at least five years and one day of imprisonment are an impediment to entering Chile (as are the crimes of drug, gun or people trafficking, and smuggling).

If the conviction for crimes or offences has been received in Chile, the Immigration Authority is allowed to decide whether or not to grant residence permission.

Penalties for non-compliance

What are the penalties for companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration law? How are these applied in practice?

Companies are punished with fines that vary depending on the level of non-compliance, and individuals may be punished with penalties that may include a verbal warning, written warning, fines and, in the most serious cases, deportation.

Language requirements

Are there any minimum language requirements for migrants?

No.

Medical screening

Is medical screening required to obtain immigration permission?

Chilean law does not require medical screening and Chilean immigration authorities do not require it to grant residence permits; however, Chilean consulates abroad demand it as a condition for granting visas.

Secondment

Is there a specific procedure for employees on secondment to a client site in your jurisdiction?

There are no specific regulations for secondment in Chile; however, if the seconded employee works in Chile but is paid abroad, it will be necessary to file for a residence visa for this purpose. Currently, the only way to obtain this permission is to apply for it before the Immigration Authority directly in Chile; it is not yet possible to apply abroad through a Chilean consulate. The process takes between 90 and 150 calendar days, and also requires submitting information regarding the employee and the conditions of employment abroad with the company that provides the secondment, and a letter from the Chilean company to which the foreign worker will render services.

In principle, the employee is allowed to start rendering his or her services once the visa has been granted (see question 11).

Update and trends

Key developments of the past year

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

Key developments of the past year40 Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

A new immigration bill was passed in the Chamber of Deputies in January 2019 and is now up for debate in the Senate. The bill proposes new visa categories, an enhanced revalidation process to recognise foreign degrees and licences, and the non-criminalisation of illegal entries into Chile. The bill has stirred controversy, however, because it would require individuals with a tourist visa who are already in Chile and wish to become temporary residents to request residency status from consulates abroad.

The author would like to thank Iñaki Irisarri for his contribution to this chapter.