Job Seeker Blog

The World of Work Permits
Drs. Ron and Caryl Krannich Work permits are one of the major obstacles to finding employment abroad. While you may be interested in working in Australia, Great Britain, or Norway, restrictive work permit, visa, and immigration policies may quickly dash your hopes of working in these countries. At the very least, they make living and working abroad a big hassle.

Work permits and resident visas go hand in hand. Most countries require foreign employees to acquire a resident visa that includes a work permit. The normal procedure is to require the foreigner to apply for the work permit and resident visa before entering the country, although some countries do allow you to apply after being in country and securing an employment contract. In other words, in most instances, you cannot just arrive in country, look for employment, and then apply for a resident visa. Instead, you must have an employment contract in hand before arriving in country. This procedure achieves what most countries intentionally design-discourage foreigners from seeking employment.

The easiest way to get a work permit is to have an employment contract with a company that routinely takes care of work permit requirements. They, rather than you, must deal with the complexities of the government bureaucracy.

Most countries follow a similar pattern in regards to work permits and resident visas. Except in the cases of the European Union (EU) countries where employment in member countries is relatively open (no work permits required) for EU citizens, most countries protect local labor by placing similar restrictions on foreign workers:

  1. Foreigners are forbidden to acquire jobs that compete with local labor and skills. When applying for a work permit and resident visa, employers must provide evidence that the job in question cannot be filled by a local worker with similar skills.

  2. Work permits and resident visas are temporary and thus must be renewed periodically though a Ministry, Department, Bureau, or Office of Labor-every 6, 12, or 24 months. The bureaucracy takes its time in processing such applications. You will witness a great deal of bureaucratic inertia in the process of acting on your application.

  3. Foreigners must pay local taxes and special resident visa fees. Furthermore, foreigners may be restricted on how much local currency they can take out of the country. Leaving the country even for a short holiday may require tax clearances- including a large cash deposit-and special permissions so you can re-enter without invalidating your work permit and resident visa.

  4. Work permit and resident visa requirements may restrict the number of times foreigners can exit and re-enter a country. In some countries the work permit and resident visas becomes invalid upon leaving the country. Consequently, the whole application process must be once again initiated upon re-entering the country.
While many of these restrictions seem illogical and the bureaucratic process can be slow, they are designed with one purpose in mind- discourage foreign workers from entering and staying in their countries. Not surprisingly, countries increasingly emphasize "locals only" employment/immigrant policies due to a combination of nationalism and high unemployment rates.

Such restrictions can complicate international jobs considerably and take the excitement out of what was once considered to be the glamorous world of working abroad. While it is difficult to get the work permit in the first place, other restrictions can make life difficult once you get the necessary permissions. Currency, mobility, and re-application restrictions constitute the major headaches in this foreign employment game. Bureaucracies tend to be slow and cumbersome in processing the initial application as well as renewing work permits and resident visas. Indeed, even with an employment contract in hand and having completed all necessary paperwork, you may still have to wait two to six months before getting the proper documentation for entering the country as a foreign worker. You may also have second thoughts about leaving a country that automatically invalidates your hard-to-get-in-the-first-place work permit as well as requires a tax clearance to depart.

Consequently, it is always best to negotiate your employment contract with an international company before arriving in country. Be sure to clarify your understanding of local rules and regulations governing your employment, tax, and mobility status prior to accepting a position. The company will know the local regulations and it should be organized for arranging all work permits and resident visas for you and your family. In other words, it should be the responsibility of the employer to acquire all necessary work permits and resident visas to ensure your employment stability. If you fail to do this, you may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that you are literally "stuck" in a country for the duration of your contract as you are subjected to numerous rules and regulations governing your "foreign worker" status.

Many foreign workers, especially young people engaged in a once-in-a-lifetime work-your-way-around-the-world adventure, successfully avoid work permit and resident visa requirements by working illegally. They arrive in country on a 90-day to 6-month tourist visa, find employment, periodically leave the country in order to renew the visa, and return to their jobs-until the authorities catch them playing this game. This is a risky business and it often results in low-paying and menial jobs. In addition, you may not be eligible for health insurance and other employment benefits that automatically come with "legal" jobs. If you are a student looking for part-time or summer work abroad, you can usually find low-paying jobs in the tourism industry or agriculture without incurring the wrath of the local labor and immigration authorities. But in many countries, such as Denmark and Finland, authorities are even vigilant in enforcing foreign labor laws at this end of the labor spectrum.

It is always best to inquire about the local labor restrictions affecting foreign workers prior to seeking employment in a particular country. You can do this by contacting the foreign embassy or consulate located in your country for information on work permits and resident visas. Again, keep in mind that in most cases it will be the responsibility of the employer to acquire the necessary work permits and visas. And in most cases this means receiving an employment contract prior to entering the country. While you may travel to the country on a tourist visa for a job interview, you may not be able to enter the country on a tourist visa to begin work while waiting for your work permit and resident visa applications to be processed. Since each country differs somewhat in how they structure this situation, check with the embassy or consulate nearest you for clarifying the rules and regulations.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Seven
Part Eight

Excerpted from "Jobs For People Who Love to Travel" and "International Jobs Directory" by Drs. Ron and Caryl Krannich. Impact Publications, 9104 Manassas Drive, Suite N, Manassas Park, VA 20111, Tel. 703-361-7300, Fax 703-335-9486, E-mail: Available through Impact's on-line career and travel bookstores: and

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