Chile introduces lenient tech visa as US applies limitations on immigration

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has introduced greater leniency in a new immigration policy, allowing entrepreneurs, tech talent, and investors to acquire a visa in just 15 days.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet has announced the launch of the Chilean Tech Visa this week, which trims down the visa approval process to just 15 days.

As the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department pursues limitations on the H-1B visa program favoured by tech companies, Chile is forging ahead with a different strategy, making it easier and more attractive for foreigners to start or work for a tech company in Chile.

The nation's new tech visa is targeted towards founders and investors in tech businesses that are based or looking to set up a base in Chile, as well as science and technology professionals who are looking to work for a tech business based in Chile.

Entrepreneurs who are selected for Startup Chile's accelerator programs or one of its three lines of financing will also be able to acquire a visa within 15 days of application.

According to Chilean publication La Tercera, Bachelet wants to create a "virtuous cycle where everyone wins".

Nathan Lustig, managing partner at Santiago-based venture capital firm Magma Partners, told ZDNet that current conditions in the US present an opportunity for Chile to attract tech talent and businesses.

He added that fast tracking the visa acquisition process is a "giant leap forward", as it will make it easier to launch and grow a global business from Chile, while taking the country from an extraction-based economy to a knowledge-based one.

"The best startups in the world need the best people to help them become great. The US has long had a monopoly on the best talent. Founders and top talent have long dreamed of working in Silicon Valley and New York City," Lustig said.

"However, over the past few years, rising costs of living, questions about the quality of life, and, more recently, changes to immigration and visa policy have left many top founders, engineers, designers, and creatives looking elsewhere for opportunities in countries that welcome them with open arms."

Lustig added that Magma Partners' portfolio companies such as GroupRaise, Jooycar, and PropertySimple are already operating globally, and that the new visa now gives them another competitive advantage.

"It also gives us another source of top deal flow, as we can invest in the best companies from around the world and know they'll be able to work legally and stay long term if they come to Chile," Lustig added.

Lustig said the nation has been at the forefront of these efforts since 2010, when Startup Chile was launched, which is a program that incentivises founders from around the world to set up a base in Chile.

Since its inception, more than 1,300 startups have received equity-free grants of up to 60 million pesos, 12-month work visas, a bank account, and office space. Startup Chile claims on its website that more than 51 percent of these startups are still active, and are collectively valued at about $1.4 billion.

Jack Fischl, co-founder of travel startup Keteka, told ZDNet that since 2014, when the startup was established, he has seen "hundreds" of Startup Chile teams move to the country and leave shortly after because "they find the logistics and bureaucracy of doing business in Chile to be suffocating". He said lenient visa programs are, therefore, needed to retain talent.

"Visas are a huge factor that have stopped founders from staying in Chile, from relocating high talent team members here, and from recruiting the top talent on the market," Fischl added.

"Chile has done a great job of becoming economically stable in a region wrought with instability, but they must continue to make it easier for innovative companies to do business if they hope to stay competitive with Brazil, Colombia, and eventually Argentina."

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