A work permit is an official government-issued document that authorizes an individual to work in a specific country.

The purpose of a work permit is to regulate and control the employment of foreign nationals within a country.

A work permit is also commonly known as an employment authorization or employment visa.

Work permit vs. work visa

While "work permit" and "work visa" are often used interchangeably, there are distinctions between the two, and the precise terminology can vary depending on the country. Below, we describe the general differences between the two terms.

Work permits

The characteristics of a work permit can vary depending on the country and its immigration policies, but some common characteristics include:

  • Issued by a government agency
  • Acts as the primary document that explicitly and legally authorizes a foreign national to work in a specific country
  • Grants entry into a country for an extended period of time
  • Outlines the terms and conditions of employment, such as the type of work allowed, the employer, and the authorization duration
  • Required in addition to a visa, especially in countries where the two are separate documents

Work visas

The elements of work visas can differ from country to country. Here are some standard characteristics associated with work visas:

  • Issued by a government agency
  • Acts as only part of the entry requirements for a foreign national to legally work in a specific country
  • Grants temporary entry into a country
  • Outlines the terms and conditions of employment, such as the type of work allowed, the employer, and the authorization duration
  • Required for entry into the country and may be accompanied by additional documents, including the work permit

How to obtain a work permit

The steps for acquiring a work permit can vary depending on the country and immigration policies. Here are five general steps to pursuing a work permit:

  1. Eligibility requirements. Employee eligibility is based on factors such as the job offer, qualifications, and the specific application category.
  2. Job offer and employment contract. The job offer is often a crucial component of the work permit application. The employment contract includes essential details such as job responsibilities, duration of employment, and salary.
  3. Application and required documentation. The employer and employee prepare the application, and the employer typically submits it to the relevant government agency responsible for immigration or labor. Required documentation may include:
    - Completed application form
    - Valid passport
    - Job offer letter or employment contract
    - Educational qualifications and professional certifications
    - Proof of financial means
    - Health and medical certificates
    - Passport-sized photographs
  4. Fees. The employer typically pays the work permit application costs. Fees can vary widely and cover processing costs, administrative expenses, or other charges related to permit issuance.
  5. Processing and decision. Processing times can vary, and checking the expected timeline for a decision is essential. Some countries may offer expedited processing for specific situations.

Work permit FAQs

The following are commonly asked questions about work permits.

Are work permits necessary in every country?

Generally, yes, work permits are required in many countries as a legal authorization for foreign nationals to work there.

Read also: How to Stay Compliant When Hiring Internationally

How much does it cost to obtain a work permit?

The cost of getting a work permit varies depending on the type of work permit, the applicant's age, where an employee currently lives, where they seek to work, and other factors.

For example, acquiring a work permit in the U.S. costs $410–$495: $410 for the filing fee for Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and $85 for a biometric services fee.

How long do work permits last?

The duration of work permits varies widely worldwide and is influenced by each country's specific laws and regulations.

For example, the U.S. employment authorization document (EAD) work permit for non-U.S. citizens usually lasts for one year. However, it may be valid for more or less than that based on your other visas and licenses.

Employer considerations before obtaining a work permit

Before obtaining an employee's work permit, employers must carefully consider various factors to ensure compliance with immigration laws and facilitate a smooth and legal hiring process. Here are key considerations for employers:   

Establishing legal entities

A consideration for global companies hiring foreign talent is that applicants may require sponsorship from a locally incorporated legal entity.

For example, suppose a company is hiring a foreign national or relocating a current employee to another country, and that employee plans to live and work in that country for a long-term or permanent period. The employer typically must be able to sponsor their work visa and permit, which means the company must also have a legal entity in that country.

Length of stay

An employee's length of stay in a particular country also determines whether or not they need to obtain a work visa or work permit.

For example, suppose a company works with an employee on a digital nomad visa who plans to move from one country to another after about 90–180 days. In this case, the employee typically does not need a work visa or sponsorship from their employer.

However, if the employee stays in another country for longer than about six months, the employee likely needs a work visa and permit. This responsibility of sponsoring the employee usually falls on the company, meaning the company needs a legal entity in that country.

Complying with global employment laws

Work permit types and regulations differ from country to country, including fees, application processes, renewal information, and more. Organizations must be aware of these changes if they sponsor work permits and work visas in various countries or hire remote foreign nationals.

Learn how our Global Immigration solution helps your company compliantly navigate the immigration process without the need for legal entity establishment, whether you're hiring top talent abroad or relocating a team member.

Disclaimer: The intent of this document is solely to provide general and preliminary information for private use. Do not rely on it as an alternative to legal, financial, taxation, or accountancy advice from an appropriately qualified professional. © 2023 Velocity Global, LLC. All rights reserved.

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