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IMPORTANT LEGAL BULLETIN: Substantial Changes to Visa Rules

Authors:

Alan Gongora, Esq. (NY)
Salome Isaza.

 

TOPIC SUMMARY

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just approved the most comprehensive changes to the rules governing how foreigners apply for visas in Colombia since 2017.  These changes largely track the proposed changes we previously reviewed at length back in December of last year. Below is a summary of the most significant changes.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Note that this summary only aims to include what we believe to be key changes to the current visa rules (Resolución 6045 de 2017). There are additional changes to the rules that, while substantive, we do not believe are sufficiently significant to highlight in this summary.  Regardless, we HIGHLY recommend that you consult with an experienced attorney in advance of any future visa application as even minor changes to the rules may impact your application significantly.

CURRENT VISA CATEGORIES

For context, here are is a general summary of the current visa/permit categories applicable in Colombia for your reference:

  1. PIP/PTP Permits (up to 6 months)
    • Student Permits (i.e., short-term Spanish classes)
    • Medical Permits (short-term stay)
    • Tourist Permits (initial 90 days) (this is what many foreigners get when they get stamped at the airport)
  1. VISITOR (varies; does NOT lead to eventual residency)
    • Student Visa (i.e., short-term Spanish classes)
    • Work Visa (temporary)
    • Business Visa
    • Tourist Visa (applicable for citizens of countries who are not entitled to Tourist Permits)
  1. MIGRANT (up to 3 years; can lead to eventual residency after 5 years for most visa types)
    • Retirement/pension Visa
    • Annuity/ “Rentista” Visa
    • Marriage Visa
    • Company Owner Visa (investment in local business in excess of 100X minimum wage)
    • Property Owner Visa (purchasing property with value in excess of 350X minimum wage)
    • Work Visa
    • Independent Activities Visa
    • Student Visa
  1. RESIDENCY (5 years)
    • Based on:
      • holding a Migrant visa;
      • accumulating 5 years with other Migrant Visas
      • accumulating 2 years with a Marriage Visa; or
      • parent of Colombian national; or
      • foreign direct investment over 650X local minimum wage

NEW VISAS

Under the proposed rules, Colombia will be adding additional visas.  These may operate as completely new visas or may result from extracting specific activities from an existing visa type (example: creating Common Law Marriage Visa from current Marriage Visa).

  1. Visitors Visas
    • Nomad Visa
    • Promotion of Internationalization Visa (primarily to promote innovation/scientific investigation)
    • Agricultural Worker Visa
    • Visas for volunteers/students affiliated with a religious entity
    • Visas for Permanent Journalists
    • Technical Assistant Visa
    • Free Trade Agreement Business Visa
  1. Migrant Visas
    • Investment Visa Based on Investment of 650X Minimum Wage (this is now a separate visa category along with investment of 350 X minimum wage)
    • Common Law Marriage Visa
    • Civil Marriage Visa
    • Parent of Colombian National Visa
    • Promotion of Internationalization Visa (primarily for postgraduate students)
    • Andean Visa (for citizens of the Andean Region including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru)
  1. Resident Visas
    • Resident Visa for Venezuelans

KEY CHANGES TO EACH VISA TYPE

RESIDENT VISAS

  1. Foreign Direct Investment Exceeding 650X Minimum Wage
    • New rules eliminate this visa type
    • Foreigners can still apply for a Property Owner Migrant Visa which will eventually allow them to apply for residency after 5 years
  1. Parent of a Colombian National
    • New rules eliminate this visa type
    • Foreigners can still apply for a Parent of a Colombian National Migrant Visa which will eventually allow them to apply for residency after 2 years
    • Applicant will need to demonstrate that they are able to cover their living expenses while in the country via bank statements and other documentation.
  1. Prior Holder of a Migrant Visa
    • Civil Marriage Visa holders now need to wait 3 years before applying for residency (previously only 2 years)
    • Common Law Marriage Visa holders will now need to wait the full 5 years to apply for residency
  1. Work Permit
    • New rules means that certain applicants who can currently apply for this visa type will only be able to apply for a Visitors Annuity/“Rentista” Visa

MIGRANT VISAS

  1. Work Visas
    • Applicants are now required to provide only 4 months’ worth of bank statements of employer instead of current 6
  1. Student Visa
    • New rules eliminate this visa type
    • Foreigners can still apply for Student Visitors Visa applicable for primary education through university and beyond
  1. Annuity/“Rentista” Visa
    • New rules eliminate this visa type
    • Foreigners can still apply for a Rentista Visitors Visa
  1. Retirement Visa
    • New rules means that certain applicants who can currently apply for this visa type will only be able to apply for a Visitors Annuity/“Rentista” Visa
    • New rules add substantial changes to required documentation including:
      • Mental/physical Fitness Certificate (we are seeing the Colombian government more focused on ensuring that applicants, and particularly veterans, do not suffer from mental health issues such as PTSD); and
      • Criminal background certificate (this may need to be issued in BOTH Colombia or in country of current/prior residence)
  1. Company Owner Visa
    • New rules can be interpreted to be less stringent for entrepreneurs who are just starting their business
    • New rules can be interpreted to limit visa validity based on actual value of paid-in capital registered with local chamber of commerce (this may mean having to invest in excess of current minimum of 100 X the local minimum wage if applicant wants to receive a visa for more than 1 year).
    • Entrepreneurs will be required to specify the number of employees the new business entity will employ
  1. Civil Marriage Visa
    • Visa holders will need to wait 3 years to apply for residency (currently only 2 years)

       

  2. Common Law Marriage Visa
    • Common Law Marriage is required to have been completed at least one (1) year prior to visa application.
    • Visas are valid for up to 1 year (meaning that visa holders would need to reapply at least 4 times prior to applying for residency)
    • Visa holders now have to wait a full 5 years to apply for residency (currently only 2)

       

  3. Independent Activities Visa
    • New rules only apply to regulated professions only (some exceptions)
    • Need to show at least 6 months of income with at least 5 x minimum wage per
    • month (compared to the 10 that were previously requested).
    • Applicants applying again will be required to provide bank documentation from local financial entity. Foreign bank documentation only valid for initial application

VISITORS VISA

  1. Nomad Visa
    • Need to show at least 3 months of income with at least 3 x minimum wage each month
    • Up to 2 years validity
    • Need to prove “nomad” status, meaning that you:
      • work as an employee or independent contractor of a foreign entity; or
      • are interested in starting a new venture in the tech for digital space.
    • Cannot be a resident of a country where a Tourist Visa is required
    • Documentation required include a traveler’s insurance policy, bank statements and other documents
  1. Annuity/”Rentista”
    • New rules now allow applicants to demonstrate economic support via rental income received from properties located in Colombia
    • New rules allow maximum validity of up to 2 years (current rules are up to 3 years)
    • Criminal background certificate will be required (this may need to be issued in BOTH Colombia or in country of current/prior residence).

       

  2. Student
    • New rules allow for in-person or virtual instruction
    • New rules allow for beneficiary visa applications where applicant is engaged in post-graduate coursework
    • Evidence that applicant receives income equal to at least 10 x local minimum wage required.

BENEFICIARY VISA

  1. Parents are no longer allowed to apply for beneficiary visa
  2. Children of primary visa-holders automatically lose their beneficiary visa once they turn 25

ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES IMPACTING VISA APPLICATIONS

Below is a non-exhaustive list of proposed changes affecting the visa application process:

  • Response Times: a variety of changes that include the following:
    • changes to established deadlines to pay visa fees;
    • if your visa is cancelled you may not be able to apply for another visa for between 1 and 10 years (or more) depending on the circumstances;
    • if you visa application is “required” for more information/documentation you will have up to 10 days to respond but government may determine specific deadline; and
    • Colombian government will have up to 10 days to issue your digital visa (currently just 3 days which may affect those of you applying late and hoping to maintain continuity).

       

  • Rejected/Cancelled Visa: If your visa is rejected or cancelled you will need to apply from your country of origin/residence and will need to leave Colombia within 30 days

  • Interviews Required: Colombian Government reserves the right to request interviews (in-person, by phone or virtually) with third parties to substantiate information/documentation submitted in connection with a visa application.

  • Visa Stamps: Visa stamping will no longer be mandatory unless it is requested by a government official. Renewing Residency Visas will now require that you update your visa stamp (currently you can just renew your local id card).

     

  • Permits to Stay: You will no longer be able to use Permits to Stay (“salvoconductos”) in order to maintain continuity towards a Residency visa (some applicants currently request these Permits while they are applying for a new visa in order to avoid becoming illegal in the country after current visa expires).

  • Multiple Passports: Foreigners are required to inform immigration agents that they possess more than one passport when entering the country. Multiple passport holders are required to use only one passport when engaged in any migration/immigration/visa processes in Colombia.

     

  • Basis for Your Visa: Visa-holders are required to inform Colombian authorities if there has been any change to the basis of their visa or if they have lost the basis for their visa for any reason (example: selling a property that is the basis for a visa-holder’s Property Owner Visa).

     

  • Overstaying a Visa: Under new rules, applicants who previously overstayed a permit/visa may be denied a new visa much more easily.

RELEVANT Q&As

  1. When do these rules go into effect?
    These new rules will go into effect 90 days from the date they were published.  As of the time of publication, we expect this date to be towards the end of October.
  1. What should I expect if I apply for a visa between now and the time the new rules go into effect?
    Expect a chaotic visa application process. Our Firm has been processing Colombian visa applications since 2009 and we have had to manage at least 3 significant changes to the rules over that time.  Do not be surprised if the following happens during your application:
  • visa officials applying new rules BEFORE they are actually enforced (probably owing to training transition issues)
  • visa officials imposing ADDITIONAL requirements on applicants (probably because officials don’t want to make a mistake during transition)
  • visa officials confused about the actual rules
  • visa officials applying current AND new rules incorrectly.

A separate headwind here is that visa officials need time to properly determine how to INTERPRET and APPLY new rules now that they have been approved.  This means additional uncertainty for applicants in the short term.

  1. What should I expect if I apply for a visa AFTER the rules come into effect?
    More of what is described above.  We recommend that you avoid applying for a new visa until at least 6 months AFTER the new rules go into effect in order to avoid some of the chaos described above.
  1. I have an existing visa. How do the new changes impact me?
    Those of you who are current visa holders can expect the Colombian government to grandfather in current visa rules until your visa either expires or you change your visa. Remember that if you have a current visa that has been eliminated by the new rules, you will need to apply for a different visa type when your current visa expires.
  1. I was planning to get one of the visas that will be eliminated as a result of these changes (example: Residency Visa Based on Investment, Parent of a Colombian National). Can I still apply?
    Yes.  We recommend that you apply no later than 30 days prior to the new rules coming into effect (towards the end of September this year).  If you apply within less than 30 days you may still be able to be approved but the risk increases that you will be denied.
  1. I already have a Residency Visa. How will the new rules affect me?
    So long as a holders of Residency Visas do not lose the basis for their visa (example: selling a property for holders of a Residency Visa Based on Investment) they will maintain their residency status after these new rules come into play.  When their current visa expires they will be required to get a new visa stamp.

 

RELEVANT LEGAL/REGULATORY CITATIONS