Business Visas vs. Work Permits for Expat Workers

The immigration policies of most countries offer two distinct choices for companies sending staff on international assignment. For staff engaged in longer or more involved assignments a work permit is typically required, while shorter visits can be covered with a normal business visa.

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess
Oct 28, 2018
0
0

The immigration policies of most countries offer two distinct choices for companies sending staff on international assignment.  For staff engaged in longer or more involved assignments a work permit is typically required, while shorter visits can be covered with a normal business visa. 

When making an assignment, a company is faced with selecting the best method under the circumstances, and there are a number of factors that must be considered for workers that have mobile positions.  Immigration departments are increasing their scrutiny of the use of business visas and work permits to ensure that companies are not attempting to circumvent established rules for entry.

The risks of having the wrong type of immigration permissions for business activity can include:

  • Civil and criminal penalties for the company, as well as risk to their business presence in country
  • Penalties for customer and client sites if the workers are on another companies premises at the time they are found to be in breach
  • Questioning, detainment and denial of entry to workers without the required permits for substantive business activity
  • Non-compliance with local statutory withholding and employment requirements
  • Triggering ‘permanent establishment’ via employee activity, resulting in corporate tax liability
  • Business Travel and Extended Visits

The classic business trip of a few days to several weeks, is typically covered by a business visa that is available in most countries.  The low cost and simple application process makes this an attractive option for shorter trips, especially for businesses that are exploring opportunities in a new market.  Activity under a business visa may be limited to marketing, research, attending meetings, conferences or training events, and there are limitations on substantive business activities. The exact requirements and limitations of business visas vary from country to country so it is important to check with an immigration specialist.

Other business visa activities can include:

  • Customer and vendor meetings
  • Information gathering for sales efforts
  • Contract negotiation (but actually concluding a contract may have other implications)
  • Periodic visits to foreign offices for project or progress reviews

There is a question that arises for ‘extended business travel’ where an assignment may last longer than a month, but still utilizes a business visa for entry to the country.  If the worker’s assignment involved any type of management or other substantive activities, then there can be a risk of non-compliance with the restrictions of the business visa, and the work performed would be classified as activity that required a work permit.

Still, many companies choose to take this risk for extended assignments rather than shoulder the cost and time of a work permit.  If discovered, the company could face a host of problems including deportation of the worker, fines for the company or host, black listing with the immigration department and potentially tax and social security issues.

Immigration departments are cracking down on the use of business visas for extended or frequent stays that may be more suited to work permits.  There is a belief that a history of using business visas will guarantee future entry, but there is a new and significant risk of questioning and detainment, as well as penalties for the business sponsor.

There is an increased interest in a new visa class to cover this type of mid-range assignment by offering a ‘short-term work visa’, which would allow for longer stays and more involved work activity.  

However, until that type of immigration reform occurs, the sole legal route for long term or substantive worker assignments is the work permit.

Work Permits

Work permits give an expat assignee express permission to engage in substantive work in country on behalf of their employer.  Often, this may involve management positions, systems implementation or other work that generates revenue, but may not always be of long duration.  Even a short stay may require a work permit, depending on the type of employee activity...read more

Shield GEO makes international employment simple. Our customers use Shield GEO to employ and payroll hundreds of workers in over fifty countries. Find out more. 

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Director, Shield GEO Services Ltd

No comments yet.