Ever wondered why IT and BPO companies in Chile have continued to expand despite what is commonly seen as a severe shortage of skilled workers locally? In Chile, immigration rules are strikingly different than nearby nations like Brazil. IT companies can bring in as many skilled professionals from overseas countries as they want. Jobseekers from across the world are arriving by thousands and filling up the vacant positions in all sectors of the economy.=
The country making the most of Chile’s lax immigration policy is Spain, the former colonial ruler currently reeling from a devastating recession and a record rate of unemployment. More than two thousand Spaniards are working in Chile’s information technology (IT) industry, according to Alfredo Araneda, IT manager at Michael Page, an international recruitment agency in capital Santiago.
Not only Spaniards, skilled workers from across Latin America are streaming into Chile, hoping to perk up their profile with international experience. “Nearly 25 countries are represented in our workforce. Among the foreigners, Brazilians outnumber the others. We also have workers from the United States and India,” said Mohit Srivastava, country manager of Evalueserve, an Indian outsourcing firm.
Most of the foreigners working in Evalueserve are computer programmers or analysts, and nearly all of them speak in English.
Foreign workers are a common sight in Chile these days and workers with technology skills are finding it far easier to land a job. “All you need to do is to arrive in Chile on a tourist visa and search a job. Once you obtain a job contract, you can apply for work visa,” says Srivastava.
Some politicians are pushing the government to modify immigration laws to make sure that foreign workers do not exceed 15 percent of a company’s total employees.
“Foreigners are not only welcomed but also respected in Chile. It is indeed a great virtue of Chileans. Maybe this is also a reason why so many foreigners are joining the workforce,” said Srivastava, who graduated from Bangalore’s prestigious business school – Indian Institute of Management (IIM).
There is no precise data as to how many foreigners are working in Chile’s IT industry, but overseas workers appear to make up at least 10-15 percent of the payroll in every IT company.
“Foreign workers account for 15 percent of our workforce,” says Martin Lewit, General Manager of Ki Teknology, a software development firm, which serves mainly the U.S. market.
Most of the people NSAM spoke to concede that Chile lacks skilled IT workers, but none of them seemed to have at least one example of a company harmed by the labor shortage.
According to Araneda, thousands of IT professionals from Argentina and Colombia have landed high-paid jobs in Chile ever since the recession hit the globe.“We helped more than 10 IT professionals land a job in 2012,” he said.
Chilean government is aware of a large influx of foreign professionals in its IT workforce, but it is not counting on foreign skills to promote its domestic IT sector. The South American country has recently kick-started a campaign aimed at encouraging young Chileans to launch career in technology sector.
“We have spoken to many students in universities across the country. What is certain is that children are increasingly attracted to jobs in high-tech industry,” said Jacki Torres, CEO of Global Connex.
An increasing number of IT companies, according to Torres, are collaborating with private English coaching institutes to train their employees in the British language.
“Many engineers with technical skills in IT are considering to undergo English training at our institute, including people from TCS,” Torres added.
Normally, graduates with technical skills join the training programs after signing a pre-job agreement with an IT company. Once they have become proficient in English, they go back and join their employer.
“Even when you lose job, you don’t need to worry. You will get 90 days of time to find out a new job to have your visa renewed,” Torres added.
The Wave of Immigration
As the demand for foreign professionals spiked, Chile handed work visa to more people. Over the last decade, the number of work visas granted by Chile rose by an average 25 percent per year, according to local newspapers.
Some politicians are pushing the government to modify immigration laws to make sure that foreign workers do not exceed 15 percent of a company’s total employees. Some analysts are blaming the country’s ill-equipped education system for the rise in immigrant workers. Thousands of students took to streets in Santiago recently calling for overhaul of the education system, which analysts say does not meet the demands of the growing economy.
What is luring foreigners however is Chile’s political stability, low-unemployment rate and rising wages. With Spain’s economy slipping deeper into recession, Spaniards are emigrating in droves.
According to Araneda, more than 40,000 Spaniards have found jobs in Chile ever since the recession hit Europe. In its recent report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that most immigrants in Chile are from other South American countries, with 61% from neighboring countries. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of immigrants from Peru more than tripled, from 38 000 to 131 000. They now account for 37% of the migrant population, followed by Argentines (17%), Bolivians (6%), Ecuadorians (5%) and Colombians (4%).