April 09, 2013

The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has recently issued guidance permitting nationals of countries that are members of the Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) of the Community of Andean Nations (CAN) and MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) to undergo streamlined processing for work and residence authorization in Colombia.

What are “CAN” and “MERCOSUR”?

MERCOSUR (or “Southern Common Market”) – This FTA is the largest and most economically important in the Latin American region. This FTA has four Member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela) with Paraguay currently having suspended status. In addition, there are five Associate Member countries (Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru). The five Associate Member countries currently have only limited voting privileges and access to this common market.

CAN (Community of Andean Nations) – A smaller, regional FTA comprised of a community of four Member countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) that are voluntarily undertaking the integration of their economies within CAN and throughout Latin America.

According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the MERCOSUR member countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have signed a framework FTA with CAN Member countries to promote future trade between the Andean Community and MERCOSUR.

Colombia Grants Certain Nationals a Two-Year “MERCOSUR” Status

In December 2012, Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issued Resolution 7183 granting a two-year, nationality-based residence authorization to nationals of MERCOSUR countries, provided reciprocal privilege is also granted to Colombian nationals applying for the same two-year visa in all other MERCOSUR-member countries.

Currently, only Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru have granted reciprocal “MERCOSUR” status to Colombian nationals. Thus, please note that as not all MERCOSUR member countries have granted reciprocal visa privileges to Colombians, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will abstain from granting this status to nationals from non-reciprocating countries.

In Colombia, the privileges associated with the MERCOSUR status are as follows:

  • An expedited process to obtain a resident visa (Visa Temporal Acuerdo Mercosur).
  • In most cases, the resident visa allows the employee to work and be employed without holding an additional work permit. This work authorization is for unrestricted employment and/or study in Colombia (except for certain regulated professions, such as engineering, legal, and business administration professionals).
  • Those MERCOSUR nationals intending to practice in regulated professions may be required to obtain a temporary work permit, license to practice in Colombia and undergo a degree credentialing process (homologación).
  • Status is granted for an initial two-year period.
  • MERCOSUR status may be applied for at a Colombian consular post or foreign nationals may regularize their status in Colombia.

As with other MERCOSUR countries offering this same status, Colombia issues an initial two-year residence permit based on proving the applicant’s nationality (via legalized birth certificate or passport) and good character (legalized police certificates from home country and a “Migratory Records Certificate” issued by the Colombian Immigration Office – the “UAE Migraçion Colombia”).

While this status does not require Colombian company sponsorship nor is status tied to a specific employment in Colombia, MERCOSUR nationals are required to execute a notarized official form, the “Compromise to Inform Occupation/Activity Changes (Compromso Informar Cambio Ocupacion)” informing the immigration authority if moving to new employment in Colombia.

Finally, after holding two years of continuous valid MERCOSUR status, foreign nationals will be able to apply for an extension of this status. Extensions will be granted for periods of up to two years; however, the duration will ultimately be determined by the Brazilian immigration authorities on a case-by-case basis. Only after holding valid MERCOSUR status for at least five consecutive years, will the foreign national be eligible to apply for Columbian permanent residency.

“CAN” Status

In February 2013, the MOFA issued new provisions under Decision 545 implementing a new, streamlined immigration process for nationals of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru working in certain sectors to obtain expedited work and residence authorization.

For these Andean nationals, the four categories of work are as follows:

1. Individually Moving Worker – A foreign national who intends to work in Colombia as either:

a) A direct-hire by a Colombian company who has executed a Colombian employment contract; or,

b) A dependent worker who has signed or agreed to an offer of employment from the government of Columbia.

2. Company Worker (Trabajador de Empresa) – Intra-company transfers intending to work and reside in Colombia for more than 180 consecutive days.

3. Seasonal Worker (Trabajador de Tempoada) – Cyclical agricultural or short-term service industry employment, usually for work lasting less than 180 consecutive days in a 12-month period.

4. Border Worker (Trabajador Fronterizo) – Workers resident in the neighboring countries of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and who regularly cross and commute into Colombia to work.

All of the above workers will be able to apply directly with the Columbian Ministry of Labor for a “Migrant Worker Certificate (Certificado de Trabajador Migrante Andino),” and will be required to obtain their national identification card (Cédula) from the Immigration Office (UAE Migraçion Colombia).

ACTION ITEMS FOR EMPLOYERS

Companies that intend to assign nationals of other Latin American countries to Colombia should confirm if the employee’s nationality qualifies under one, or both, of the above FTA’s.

When considering MERCOSUR status, it is important for the company to decide if it wishes to support an application that allows virtually unrestricted work authorization in Colombia that is not specifically tied to the sponsoring company.

For companies considering CAN status, only nationals from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are eligible for the streamlined work permit process in Colombia and must qualify in one of the four above-mentioned categories.

As many Latin American countries continue to consolidate their intra-regional trade relations, individual member countries within these FTA’s may alter immigration policies with little to no advance notice. For companies considering assignment candidates from within Latin America, please be sure to confirm the current immigration regulations under these FTA’s with your Colombian immigration supplier.

Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader

This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that Immigration laws are fluid and can change a moment’s notice without any warning. Please reach out to your local Pro-Link GLOBAL specialist should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by Glenn Faulk, Senior Manager, Knowledge Management. Pro-Link GLOBAL worked with our PLG | KGNM Correspondent Office in Colombia to provide you this update.

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