Overseas Work Permit (How to Get One!)


When looking at how to get an overseas work permit for an employee, there will be a number of factors to consider. This can be daunting for HR and mobility teams, given the highly changeable nature and varied nature of global immigration rules.

One of the key requirements when deploying employees overseas on assignment is ensuring the appropriate immigration permissions are in place.

Planning will be a critical success factor, to reduce the potential for issues or delays, reduce the stress and hassle for the employee and ensure timings support the assignment schedule and

How to get an overseas work permit outside Europe

Under current rules, UK citizens will generally need a work permit or visa to undertake paid employment in most non-EU or non-EEA countries.

For example, if you are looking to transfer a UK national employee to a branch in the USA, you would typically look at the US L visa category.

It will be important to take advice on selecting the most appropriate immigration route for the circumstances. A number of factors will need to be considered to decide on the best course of action.

First will be consideration of the immigration rules and system of the destination. This will provide initial indication of the visa options to work.

Next will be assessing the options against the employee’s circumstances and skills. For example, some countries offer specialist schemes for UK nationals with specific skillsets or ancestry rights.

Once a route has been identified, it will be important to ensure the intended role qualifies under any restrictions under the route relating to permissible activities.

Eligibility will be a key concern. Before making an application, it will be important to verify that the employee satisfies the prescribed criteria under the immigration category, and can prove this in their application.

When you are deploying a worker for an overseas assignment, typically this will be for a specific role and purpose. If during the assignment you are looking to change the nature of that role during the course of an assignment abroad, you may need to change the permission sought or risk breaching the conditions of the work permit.

Processing timescales

Processing timescales and costs can vary greatly from country to country, depending on that country’s bureaucracy, efficiency and workload.

An overseas work permit generally takes longer to process than family or visitor visas, requiring extensive documentation to evidence eligibility.

Some countries, such as the United States, also require a petition to be filed by the US-based sponsoring employer on behalf of the employee.

Such additional procedural requirements and permissions can significantly lengthen the process, whereby an application for a overseas work permit or visa can only be made once approval has been granted by the relevant authorities.

Many countries also maintain a quota for each type of work permit/visa, such as highly skilled professionals or seasonal agricultural workers. As such, once that quota is filled, you will be required to wait until the following calendar year to apply.

It is always advised to take advice on immigration option as early as possible in advance of a planned assignment to allow for the expected timescales and avoid delays with starting the assignment.

Work permits are generally valid for specific time limits. In the event that an assignment continues for longer than was initially anticipated, you will need to apply to extend the permission, usually by evidencing that you continue to meet the eligibility requirements with no guarantee that an extension will be granted.

Overseas work permits & Brexit

Under current, pre-Brexit rules, UK citizens have the right to work in any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland without a work permit. The EEA includes all countries in the European Union (EU), as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

While the UK remains in the EU, there will be no change to the rights and status of UK nationals living and working in those countries.

This is however expected to change post-Brexit. The future rights of UK nationals to travel to and work in the EEA will be determined by whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU under the withdrawal agreement, this will offer temporary guarantees for British citizens who are lawfully resident in EU member states, to retain current freedom of movement and other EU citizenship rights until 31 December 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Similar arrangements have also been made with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, as well as Switzerland, who all accept freedom of movement, such that UK citizens can continue to live, work and travel to these countries.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the immigration rights of UK nationals will be determined by the individual EU states, including whether a work permit or visa will be required post-Brexit.

The result is huge uncertainty about what the future of UK citizens’ immigration rights in the EU will mean for economic migration and organisations with employees travelling to and through EEA nations to work.

Employers are advised to start planning now for potential changes in the rules which will impact processes and budgets relating to overseas assignments and when deploying workers to European countries in the coming months and years.

How to get an overseas permit for US – case example

To illustrate, we look at the requirements for a UK national to apply for a work permit for the US.

When deploying an individual worker to the States you will need to prove the employee’s entitlement to work. Typically this will mean obtaining an employment-related nonimmigrant visa that will allow that person to undertake work for a particular employer. A nonimmigrant work visa is essentially the permission granted to work in the USA on a time-limited or temporary basis.

There are various different types of nonimmigrant visa available depending on the nature of the work that the individual will undertake in the United States. In this context, the two main types of nonimmigrant visa options are L1 visas that enable a multi-national organisation to transfer employees from an overseas office to a US branch or subsidiary, and H1B visas for graduate level workers undertaking a job role that requires theoretical or technical expertise.

In both cases, a petition will need to be filed with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by the US based office. Further, in the case of the H1B visa, a Labor Certificate Application will also need to be filed with the Department of Labor (DOL). Only once approval has been granted by USCIS and, where required, the DOL, can an application be made with the US Embassy for a visa.

There are various costs involved in this process. For a petition-based nonimmigrant work visa the fee is $190, together with a possible issuance fee.

There are also costs associated with filing a petition, typically $460, not to mention sizeable Border Security Act fees. In some cases, H1B petitioners must pay a fee of $4,000 for H1B visas and $4,500 for L1 visas. This is in addition to a Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, an American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 fee, and a possible premium processing fee.

Processing times can vary dramatically depending on the nature of the visa category. The times can also vary depending upon the field office or service centre where a petition is filed. Typically, however, you will be looking at a period of several months, unless premium processing is paid for.

Take advice

Effective management of immigration applications will set a positive tone for the assignment.

DavidsonMorris’ team of business immigration specialists can support with your overseas work permit needs through our managed immigration and visa application services.

We can advise on the options available in the circumstances and guide you through the application process with minimal demands on internal HR resources and assignees.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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