Visa requirement or visa exemption?


Berlin, 18. December 2015 – The citizens of almost every country in the world are now basically free to travel wherever they wish. However, this raises the question of just how permeable borders are for citizens of foreign states. For example, what are the various visa requirements on entry and for residence, especially for business or work purposes? For an answer to these questions, Ecovis turned to its network of international partners. The survey was completed by Ecovis offices in 21 countries. All of them replied that in principle a visa is required in their country but that exceptions apply to citizens of certain states as a general rule or in specific cases (e. g. for a limited period, in most cases where tourists are concerned). Often special conditions have to be complied with (e. g. minimum validity of the travel document for a remaining period, or possession of a return or onward ticket). In 90% of the countries surveyed, the visa requirement is linked to the duration of stay, generally such that different visas are issued with particular requirements depending on the time limit. The purpose of the visit and the reason for wanting to stay there for a certain period play a role in every one of the 21 countries surveyed. Partners in 19 countries submitted a reply to the question whether a special business visa existed in their respective countries – 14 of them (74%) responded positively. “The good news is that, generally speaking, visa regulations do not change that often,” comments Alexander Weigert, member of Ecovis’ board of directors. Exceptions to this rule are Japan (“often”) and Great Britain (“every year”).

Besides citizens of other EU states, nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are also entitled to enter Germany at any time without a visa, independent of the duration and the purpose of their visit. In principle this also applies to citizens of the USA, Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea, because even after having entered Germany as visitors without a visa, they are entitled to apply for a residence permit, even for a stay of over 90 days.
Holders of passports of many other countries, such as Malaysia and Mexico, may enter the country without a visa if they are tourists. They are permitted to stay up to a total of 90 days within a 180 day period, and this permission can generally not be extended directly. During this stay, no gainful employment is allowed.

Similar rules with respect to visa exemption apply in most of the other EU countries. Besides citizens of other EU countries, people from the USA and Canada are permitted to enter Great Britain as tourists or for business purposes without a visa. “In Israel, foreign Jews are visa-exempt under the Law of Return, as well as US citizens unilaterally and EU citizens based on bilateral agreements”, explains Ehud Ozery, head of the Ecovis office in Tel Aviv.” “Japan grants visitors visa-exemption on the basis of bilateral agreements,” says Kazuhiko Chiba, president of ECOVIS APO in Tokyo, as a general summary of his country’s policy.

Some countries, such as South Korea and Russia, distinguish between countries the citizens of which enjoy visa-free short stays by virtue of treaties, and states the citizens of which are granted this right as a general principle. In Russia, for example, the latter applies to visitors from certain former constituent republics of the Soviet Union, and in South Korea to passport holders from Canada and the USA.

New Zealand makes entry easy for many nationalities by only requiring a visa to be applied for upon arrival. Once in possession of the visa, they may stay up to 90 days in the country on condition that they do not pursue gainful employment during this period.

In Mexico a stay (of up to 180 days) is visa-exempt not on the basis of nationality but upon production of a document proving that the holder has permanent residence in Canada, the USA, Great Britain, Japan or one of the European Schengen countries (ref. list).

The Schengen visa: entrance ticket to several countries

What is known as the Schengen visa allows the holder limitless travel to many European countries. Tourists, visitors and business people coming from third countries where a visa is required have freedom of movement within the “Schengen Area”. This comprises 22 EU member states as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein (ref. list). The Schengen visa permits the holder to stay in the whole Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a period of 180 days. It must be applied for in advance of entry. To acquire it, it is necessary to produce, among other things, a passport or ID card, travel insurance valid within the whole Schengen Area and for the total duration of the stay (minimum coverage 30,000 euros) and proof either of sufficient financial means or an affidavit of support signed by a third party.
“I would recommend business people who also occasionally travel to other countries to tick the multiple-entry box in the application form”, says Markus Büscher, lawyer and a partner in the Ecovis office in Dusseldorf. “This enables them to enter and leave the Schengen Area as they please during the period shown in the visa.”

Citizens of third countries intending to stay longer than 90 days in one of the Schengen states, be it in order to work or to join their families, require a corresponding national visa for the state to be visited. Under certain circumstances this will also allow them freedom of movement within the whole Schengen Area for a total of 90 days within a period of 180 days.

Business and investors’ visa: a good deal

Most of the 14 countries which issue business visas do so to grant the holder permission to stay in the country temporarily (usually up to 90 days) for the purpose of gathering information or to attend professional training courses, establish business contacts, conduct negotiations, or even to perform highly professional service activities (for example as engineers, lawyers or business consultants). Generally this excludes the assumption of a regular position of employment in that country.

According to Seujong Bae, a partner in Ecovis’ Seoul office, South Korea distinguishes between four types of business visa:

  • a short-term visa for business people which only permits entry one-off, so it has to be applied for again before every visit
  • a long-term multiple-entry visa for
    – employees seconded by the head office of a foreign company to visit their Korean subsidiary
    – highly qualified people who are active at management or executive level in the Korean subsidiary of a foreign company
    – international traders who have received a corresponding registration number from the Korean International Trade Association

In Turkey, foreign investors, and candidates attending job interviews, require a business visa.

In Australia there are four types of business innovation and investment visa, i. e.

  • individuals with business skills who wish to start up a new business in Australia, and
  • individuals who intend to invest certain minimum sums – 1.5 million Australian dollars (AUD), 4.5 million or 15 million AUD – in permanent business enterprises

Applicants in the first two categories (business people not committing to a minimum investment and investors committing to an investment of at least 1.5 million AUD) need to be nominated by one of the Australian states or territories, and in the fourth, the highest, category, by Austrade on behalf of the Australian government. In the third category, all three levels may nominate candidates. Each of the four business visas includes a work and residential permit; visa-holders may enter and leave the country as often as they like during its validity.
Similar investors’ visas with working and permanent residential permits are offered by no less than 10 of the 19 countries which submitted a reply to this question. The minimum amount required varies between capital per partner of about 32,500 euros (100,000 Turkish liras) in Turkey and an investment amount of somewhat more than 2.8 million euros (2 million pounds) in Great Britain.

Work visa and work permit: an obstacle course

In principle foreign workers require a work visa or a corresponding permit to take up a position in all of the 19 countries surveyed. EU-citizens and Norwegians, Icelanders, and Swiss and Liechtenstein nationals do not require a work permit within the EU. Only for Croatian nationals do restrictions still exist in some EU countries, and vice versa.

In contrast, workers from third countries require a working permit for the EU and generally have to apply for it before entry. By way of exception to this, citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA who wish to work in Germany may enter the country initially without a visa. Within three months of arrival, however, and before commencing employment, they must apply for what is termed a “residence permit for purposes of employment”. In Turkey, any foreigner working there requires a work visa; in the case of construction jobs, residence is restricted to three months.

In several countries there are various types of work permit. In France, this may be a visa or a different type of authorization. Whatever the type of employment contract (fixed term or permanent, part-time or full-time) the authorization has to be justified accordingly. In certain cases, such as under an apprenticeship contract or a so called social integration contract, no regular work permit may be issued.

Esther Choy from the Ecovis office in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, describes the two categories to be found there:

  • what is known as the Professional Visit Pass for skilled personnel and trainees who have been seconded to perform services in Malaysia by a foreign enterprise for a period of up to six or twelve months, and
  • the Employment Pass for foreigners who are working in Malaysia in top management positions or as high-ranking specialists. This visa is issued for at least two years and can be extended for a period of up to ten years.

In every country, a series of quite different conditions needs to be fulfilled before a work permit is issued, most of them with respect to the qualifications necessary but also relating to profession, position or minimum income. In Germany foreign workers in many industries are only considered if no worker from any of the EU member states or no job applicant already living in Germany who already has a work and residence permit can be found for the job in question.

In every second of the 19 countries in which the Ecovis partners answered the question, generally a medical examination or a corresponding certificate of health is required before a work permit is issued (53%) and in two countries only in specific cases (11%). In 11 countries (58%), a certificate of good conduct issued by the applicant’s native country must be produced. In the case of a business visa, this is only required in eight of the 19 countries surveyed (42%).

European states which are members of the Schengen Area

Schengen states (full members of the Schengen Agreement; under normal circumstances no border controls between Schengen states; issue Schengen visas) EU states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden

Others: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein

EU: Schengen candidates (border controls, do not issue Schengen visas) Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania
EU: not members of the Schengen Area Great Britain (UK), Ireland

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