Foreign Work Permits

A work visa enables employment in a host country. A work visa is usually issued by the host country’s immigration or labor authority, but may also be issued by the host country‘s consulate. A work visa enables an individual to enter the host country to perform permitted, work-related activities for a specified period of time. In some jurisdictions, particularly in China, parts of Africa and Latin America, a work visa may be supplemented or substituted by a residence and/or work permit. The residence permit is typically issued by local immigration authorities while the work permit is often issued by the local labor authorities. The combination of these documents allows the employee to remain in country to perform the work-related activities.

Each country defines permissible work activities somewhat differently and may have several categories of visas that permit work, often varying in type, requirements and/or duration. Some categories of authorized work visas may require labor market clearance to establish a shortage of host country employees, while others may be available only to those filling specific occupations or possessing certain skill sets.

Many countries require a company to maintain authorized physical operations in the host country in order for employees to qualify for work visas. However, in some jurisdictions, secondment agreements and third-party employee leasing contracts may be acceptable. Some limit who may work in-country and require training of local nationals in exchange for work authorization.

In general, many countries authorize employment for the following scenarios, but special clearance or conditions may apply:

  • Intra-company transfers of personnel. A defined period of tenure with the home company may be required to qualify.
  • Productive activities that would otherwise be performed by host country nationals, with certain prerequisites, like numerical limits, prevailing wage payment equalizations, health insurance provisions.
  • Hands-on training, in some cases including training that results in productive employment.
  • International or bilateral agreements that benefit employers within participating countries by offering special treatment to promote economic development or international relations.

In general, in order to qualify for work visas, employees and their employers are subject to the following conditions or requirements:

  • A registered legal entity in the host country must sponsor the work visa. However, some countries permit host-country customers to act as sponsors, or in other cases may allow third party employers to act in this capacity.
  • Generally, the employee must be paid the market wage for the offered position, though this is not a universal requirement. The exact wage required as well as the designated company that must pay that wage will vary depending on the country’s governing immigration and/or employment laws.
  • Some work visas are subject to numerical quotas.
  • In some cases, the visa process may be relatively easier or more difficult for nationals of certain countries.
  • Some work visas require the sponsoring employer to first be approved to sponsor foreign national employees and/or have a blanket approval in place. Other prerequisites may also apply.
  • The employee often will be required to demonstrate that s/he has attained a certain level of education and/or experience.
  • The period of intended stay must be consistent with the intended purpose of the trip.