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What’s a Work Permit and How Do I Get One?

By: Melanie Bacallao
Jul 23, 2021 • 6 min read

What’s a Work Permit, and How Do I Get One? You Asked, We Answered.

You’re ready to grow your career abroad in another country, but how? People who want to live in a foreign country where they work have the option to opt for a work permit. It gives you the opportunity to stay in another country for as long as your job needs you to be. This is a great option for those who want a temporary stay in a foreign country.

What is a Work Permit?

A work permit, or Employee Authorization Document, is an issued card by the government, allowing permission for the employee to travel and work in a foreign country. The term of employment is usually for a limited period of time. You can work for any employer under a work permit. If you wish to continue working with the employer, you will need to renew your work permit within a few months or a year.

whats work permit

Work Permit vs. Work Visa

There’s a lot of misconceptions about a work permit because people tend to overlap the criteria of a visa with a permit. Both work permits and visas are called the same, but they include different terms. It’s best to know which one applies to you.

A work visa, as mentioned, is a temporary employment offer in a foreign country. There are some notable differences when being compared to a work permit:

  • Issued by employer
  • Restricted to work for one employer
  • Different categories of work visas depending on the nature of the job
  • Must require a new work visa to change job

A work permit, on the other hand, also offers temporary employment in a foreign country. There are some notable differences when being compared to a work permit:

  • Issued by the immigration agency
  • Ability to have residency and work in the foreign country
  • Fees to pay
  • Longer stay of duration

Which one is right for me – Work Permit or Work Visa?

Depending on how substantial your career is or how comfortable you are to work in another country. Those who are eager to learn both the country and work at their job should look into a work permit. It allows you to reap local benefits due to acquiring residency.

A work visa is ideal for those who want a test run to see if they enjoy working in another country. Or to those who prefer short-term contracts. Since it’s not a permit, you won’t get the option to acquire residency, missing out on local benefits.

International work experience would look great on your resume regardless. It shows employers that you function the same in any country or environment. Your indulgence in diverse work and cultures gives you the opportunity to include hard and soft skills on your resume. If you’re still not sure about working internationally, you can try studying abroad.

How to Get a Work Permit

Acquiring a work permit can be challenging. The fees can range from tens to hundreds of dollars. It may also take months for a work permit to be processed. Many workers are taking the chance to commit to international work, which causes a rise in fees and delays.

United States (USA)

In The United States, it can take around five to seven months for your work permit to process. Additionally, the work permit costs around $500, although some are exempted from this fee. The work permit is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

According to the USCIS, the following are eligible to receive a work permit:

  • F-1 students with financial hardships or seeking to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • K-1 Fiance Visa holders
  • People with protected temporary status
  • Asylees and Refugees
  • Spouses of specific visa holders
  • Exchange visitors
  • People with Adjustment of Status applications
  • Dependents of Employees of international organizations or NATO
  • B-1 nonimmigrant domestic worker

The United States is one of the strictest countries when it comes to allowing who should have a work permit. However, their criteria for eligibility are also broad. If your situation is not listed above, there is still a chance that you’re eligible.

whats work permit

Work Visa for United States (USA)

Work visas are commonly broken down into four categories: Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Worker, Permanent (Immigrant) Worker, Students, and Exchange Visitors, and Temporary Visitors for Business.

Visas for Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Worker

Here are some classifications eligible for a temporary nonimmigrant worker visa:

  • E-1: Treaty traders
  • E-2: Treaty investors
  • H-2A: Temporary agricultural workers
  • I: Representatives of foreign press
  • O-1: Persons with extraordinary abilities in science, art, film, education, business, or athletics
  • P-1A: International athletes
  • P-1B: International entertainers
  • P-2: Individual performer or part of a group
  • P-3: Artists or entertainers to perform under a program
  • Q-1: People participating in a cultural exchange program
  • R-1: Religious workers

Work Visas for Permanent (Immigrant) Worker

Here are the classifications eligible for a permanent immigrant worker visa:

  • EB-1: People of extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, film, education, business; exemplary professors or researchers; international managers
  • EB-2: People with advanced degrees in a professional field
  • EB-3: General professionals and skilled workers
  • EB-4: “Special immigrants” that serve a religious role or international employee role
  • EB-5: Business investors who invest between $1.8 million and $900,000 in a U.S. enterprise with at least 10 full-time workers

Work Visas for Students and Exchange Visitors

Here are some classifications eligible for a student or exchange visitor visa:

  • F-1: Academic students
  • F-3: Canadian or Mexican national academic commuter students
  • M-1: Vocational students
  • J-1: Exchange visitors

Work Visas for Temporary Visitors for Business

Here are the classifications eligible for a temporary visitor for business visa:

  • B-1 Temporary Business Visitor: Temporary business visitor to conduct or attend business-related activities
  • WB Temporary Business Visitor under Visa Waiver Program: Temporary visitor for business under the Visa Waiver Program
  • GB Temporary Visitor to Guam: Temporary visitor for business in Guam

These work visas are for international workers who want to be employed in the United States. It is possible that what you seek is a work visa instead of a general work permit.

How to Apply for a Work Permit or Visa

In order to get a work permit, you must request an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). To request one, you have to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You must file Form I-765 with a USCIS service center. There are specific instructions for filing Form I-765 based on your classification, so make sure to follow them!

Ineligibility of getting a Work Permit

To be eligible in the first place, you need to have immigration status. People who are citizens of the United States or legal residents do not require a work permit to work in the states.

You can be ineligible to get a work permit if you’re an undocumented immigrant or a tourist. If you are either of those and need a work permit, it’s recommended to speak with a legal office representative or a lawyer.

whats work permit


In Canada, there’s also plenty of opportunities to work. There are two types of work permits: employer-specific and open work permits. Fees for these permits can start at $155 or more.

An employer-specific work permit functions like a work visa; it is tied to a specific employer. An open work permit operates like a typical work permit; it’s broad and allows you to work for any employer, as long as they are not a part of the list of ineligible businesses to work for in Canada.

However, an open work permit in Canada is not easy to achieve. It’s only available to specific persons of unique situations. Here are some examples:

  • International students who graduated and is eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program
  • A student who cannot afford their studies
  • Applied for Canadian residency
  • Be an employer-specific work permit holder and are being abused in relation to your job in Canada
  • A refugee
  • Be under an unenforceable removal order
  • Temporary resident permit holder
  • Young workers operating in special programs

Employer-Specific Work Permit

Canadian open work permits are much more restrictive than USA work permits. In this case, it’s best to apply for an employer-specific work permit. Unless you meet the specific situations for an open work permit, your international work in Canada would be limited. After you apply, they may ask you to attend an interview or to send more information before your application is approved.

To learn more information about applying for a Canadian work permit, check their official government website.


When it comes to work visas, Europe is more lenient on requirements. In fact, you most likely don’t need to apply for a work visa. The general consensus is to apply for residency and a work permit once you step foot in the country you want to work in. If you are a citizen of the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, Switzerland, New Zealand, then you do not need to apply for a work visa. If you are a citizen elsewhere, then you must apply for a work visa.

In order to apply for a European work visa, you need:

  • Schengen application form
  • Two identical photos
  • Passport
  • Flight reservations
  • Travel medical insurance
  • Proof of Accommodation
  • Employment contract
  • Proof of academic qualifications (if applicable)
  • Proof of language knowledge

These are the standard requirements of a European work visa. There may be additional requirements depending on which European country you’re stepping into. The fees for the visa can vary, but it is typically cheap. It costs $96 per adult and $48 for children between ages six and twelve. There are also exceptions to this fee. During the application process, you’ll also be invited to a visa interview.

whats work permit

Schengen Area Permits

Additionally, there are only specific European countries where you can apply for a work visa. There are twenty-six of these countries called the Schengen Area. Here are the countries you can apply to:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

For more information on applying to one or more of these countries, visit this website. It details what you need for a regular visa and a work visa, depending on which Schengen country you apply to.

Need more options? There are also ways to apply for work visas in South Africa, Australia, Japan, and more! Good luck!

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