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By Andrea Poe


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If you're looking to snag a work permit as an IP, you'll need all the help you can get. Here are some resources to turn to:

Immigration Resources is a partnership of firms throughout the world that specializes in visa applications and immigration law.

Ambler Collins is a London-based company offering assistance in packaging applications and providing resources for workers seeking visas for dozens of countries, including the U.K.

Use these sites to get specific information about working abroad:



The Netherlands



Guide to Japanese Visas

Japanese Embassy


Want to take your solo act on the road? Well, before you make the move from Peoria to Paris, be sure to look into work permits. Many countries demand that IPs get some sort of work permit -- and most of them have intricate procedures for you to follow.

For example, American IPs who want to work in Europe face special difficulties, especially now as the EU takes its first steps. Each country has its own requirements, which must be approved by the European Economic Area (EEA). However, there's legislation currently before the European parliament that, if passed, would enable an IP with a work permit from one nation to work in any other within the EEA. In the meantime, there are as many exceptions as there are rules in the world of European visas.

Won't the consulates help sort it out? Not exactly. "Many people are under the impression that consulates are there to help them. It couldn't be further from the truth," claims Matthew Collins, president of the London-based Ambler Collins, a visa-and-immigration-consulting firm. "They're understaffed and underpaid, and in this era of shrinking government, there are fewer and fewer consulate employees."

Non-American IPs with their eyes on the U.S. also face challenges. First, there is no such thing as a work permit per se, says Darrell Sanders of Immigration Resources, an immigration-consulting firm based in Seattle. "There's a visa that gives you permission to work," he explains. "That visa ties you to a certain work activity -- so if you cease doing that activity, your status ceases."

In the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decides who can work and who cannot. "There are endless horror stories about the INS. They're a real pain to deal with," warns Sanders. "People go to INS once and they never want to go back again."

Work Permit Hell... on U.S. Soil: Kim's Story

All applications for work permits (or, in the U.S., visas) require business plans. There's a special skill to drafting plans so that they appeal to consulate and INS officers. Although there are some well-defined rules, there are also some gray areas through which IPs can squiggle if they've got the right approach. That's why many IPs, from IT consultants to ski instructors, hire professionals to guide them through the process.

So complicated and convoluted are the regulations that many IPs ditch the formalities altogether and do it under the table.

Securing a student visa by enrolling in a foreign language program is one way to enter the country for a lengthy stay (this type of visa lasts up to one year and is usually renewable). Another is to max out a tourist visa and then exit and reenter again and again, a situation that can work for as long as five to seven years.

But tossing the rules overboard carries risks. In most countries, this means that a threat of expulsion and a ban from returning hang over your head. You may also find getting work more difficult than if you had gone through the proper channels. Local companies may shy away from working with you if you don't have the proper papers because they face steep penalties if caught.

The wealthiest IPs should find little trouble working abroad. Requirements will be waived for IPs who invest a cool mil or so into the local economy. Likewise, if you've won a Nobel Prize, a Pulitzer, or an Oscar, chances are you'll have little trouble with regulations. Most countries will not only cut the red tape, but will stretch out the old red carpet once they hear you're inclined to change your home base.

In case you decide to play by the rules, there's no reason for you to be completely rudderless. We give some guidelines in the chart below. In an attempt to encompass the greatest number of people, these guidelines do not represent the process for all IPs seeking to work abroad. Remember, exceptions are the rule in the world of work permits.


What & Where


Waiting Time





Europeans apply for E2 visa at their country's consulate or file through the INS.

(Canadians in certain fields can apply for TN Visa.)

Viable business plan, track record in field, and proof of significant, committed assets.

E2 visas generally take 30 to 40 days for approval. TN visas take about three hours at the border.

E2 visas are usually issued for two to three years.

(TN visas for one year.)

Yes, with approval of financial documents by the INS.

According to a U.S. visa expert, the process is "a challenge" and decisions by the INS can be "very subjective."

United Kingdom

File an entry clearance application at the consulate. The paperwork is then sent to London for approval.

Business plan that shows a successful track record in field and investment of at least 200,000 pounds. Artists must provide portfolio.

Takes about three months to complete.

IPs in "normal" business are granted one-year visas; "artists" get four years.

Yes, if you've employed at least two local people and/or contribute to the economy.

A visa specialist in London claims, "The U.K. has the most efficient process in Europe."


Apply at the consulate. (Note: there is no formal category for work permits for the self-employed. Handled on a case-by-case basis.)

Investment or accessible assets of ten million francs and/or contract for work with French company required.

Typically 30-60 days for approval.

There are no formal guidelines.

Yes, provided you can prove that you've made an investment in the French economy.

An EU Visa specialist notes, "There's really no policy to cover it so it's pretty hard to get permission to work as a sole proprietor."


Work permit may or may not be required. Resident permit is mandatory. Apply at consulate in U.S. Paperwork is sent to the German Foreign Service office for approval.

Business plan and proof that you will not be dependent upon the state for financial or medical assistance.

Usually takes about six weeks.

Depends upon nature of business, though usually somewhere between three months and one year.

Yes, but it depends upon business.

High unemployment makes getting approval especially difficult, according to a visa specialist.

The Netherlands

Seek work permit at the consulate. It will then be forwarded for approval to the Central Board for Provision of Labor in Holland.

Successful history in endeavor, financial statements, contract with Dutch client, and business plan.

Generally one to three months.

Permits for contract work last for the length of contract. A category known as "new business activities" is generally issued for one year.

Up to three years. After three, IPs may apply for residence permit.

An IP working in Amsterdam claims, "Virtually no one who is self-employed is granted a work permit."


Certificate of Eligibility secured by regional authority in Japan and work visa applied for in person at consulate.

Sponsor (friend, family, or business associate) and detailed business plan with proof of income.

The earlier, the better. It's a long process that can take months.

Varies widely. (Note: If you leave the country intending to return, you must apply for a re-entry permit.)

Possible, depending upon applicant and nature of business.

The Japanese Embassy warns that long-term working visas are "very difficult" to obtain.


May 1, 2000
Primary Editor: Ken Gordon
Illustrator: Steve Smallwood
Production: Fletcher Moore

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Andrea Poe is a freelance writer who lives in Easton, Md. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with her, or with any of the other IPs named in this article.


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