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a wall of flags shows some of the many countries where work permits are available for foreign nationals
Visas & ImmigrationAugust 20217 min read

The ultimate guide on work permits across Europe

Do you work for a company located in Europe that’s currently defining a global mobility strategy or thinking about growing a global team? If so, you’re going to encounter the topic of visa and work permits when hiring international talent. This article outlines seven of the most common work permits across Europe.

Do you work for a company located in Europe that’s currently defining a global mobility strategy or thinking about growing an international team? If so, you’re going to encounter the topic of visa and work permits when hiring international talent. 

There are several options for work permits in Europe, and they vary from country to country. One of the most commonly issued work permits is the EU Blue Card, which is available in 25 of the 27 EU member states. The two exceptions being Denmark and Ireland.

The EU Blue Card was introduced to fill skill shortages in Europe’s labour markets, minimize bureaucracy and enhance alignment within the EU. This work permit gives highly-qualified workers from outside the European Union the right to live and work in a member state and grants them the ability to:

  • Travel freely within the EU
  • Bring family members
  • Access to the same working conditions and social benefits as EU citizens
  • Apply for permanent residency 

The EU Blue Card isn’t the only available work permit across Europe, however. Each country has its own unique permits that international talent can apply for when taking up employment. This article will provide you with an essential overview of work permits in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, the UK, and Portugal.

1. Germany: The Work Visa for Highly Qualified Professionals

Aside from the EU Blue Card, One of the most commonly issued work permits in Germany is the work visa for qualified professionals. It is available to professionals that have attended an institution of higher education or received qualified vocational training outside of Germany, and wish to obtain employment in Germany. This visa or residence permit is issued for a maximum of four years. If a work contract has a shorter duration, the residence permit is granted for the duration of the contract. These are the requirements for the work visa for qualified professionals: 

  • Qualifications must be recognised in Germany, or be comparable to those from a German higher education institution.
  • A concrete job offer from a company in Germany.
  • If over 45 and coming to Germany for employment for the first time, the gross annual salary for the position in question must be at least EUR 46,530 (in 2022). Alternatively, proof of adequate old age pension provisions can be provided.
  • Approval of the Federal Employment Agency (BA) is required.
  • It must be demonstrated that there are no preferential (nationals of EU member states or the EEA States) workers available for the job.
  • The conditions of employment must be comparable with those of domestic employees.

2. Austria: the Red-White-Red Card

Aside from the EU Blue Card, the most common work permit in Austria is the Red-White-Red Card. The following groups are eligible to apply: 

The Red-White-Red Card is issued for a period of 24 months and entitles holders to fixed-term settlement and employment by the employer specified in the application. In order to apply for the Red-White-Red Card, applicants must have a fixed and regular income that allows them to cover their living costs. Here’s the required monthly income as of January 2022:

  • For singles: € 1,030.49
  • For couples: € 1,625.71
  • For each child additionally € 159.00

Additionally, applicants must have health insurance coverage which provides benefits in Austria, and provide proof of accommodation or housing. Health Insurance Coverage

3. The Netherlands: The Highly Skilled Migrant Permit

The most commonly issued work permit in the Netherlands is the Highly Skilled Migrant Permit. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) defines a Highly Skilled Migrant as an employee who works for a recognised sponsor in the Netherlands based on a work contract. The employee has to fulfill certain criteria, as specific age, salary, and experience requirements.

Both the EU Blue Card and the Highly Skilled Migrant Program require an employment contract with a company in the Netherlands. Whereas the EU Blue Card requires an employment contract of at least a year, the Highly Skilled Migrant permit requires a three-month contract.

Besides, the highly skilled migrant needs to meet the following salary criteria (the year 2022):

  • Highly skilled migrants 30 years or older: €4,840 gross per month
  • Highly skilled migrants younger than 30 years: € 3,549 gross per month
  • Reduced salary criterion: € 2,543 gross per month
  • Blue Card: € 5,670 gross per month 

If you want to hire your employee as a Highly Skilled Migrant in the Netherlands, you need to become a recognised sponsor by the IND. For becoming a sponsor you need to fulfill specific criteria and qualifications, as e.g. being reliable and financially healthy. After the recognition process, your company will be included in the Public Register for Recognised Sponsors. It is vital to bear in mind that only organisations can become recognised sponsors - not people.

What are the benefits if your company becomes a sponsor?

  • The IND handles the applications more quickly - usually, the decision process takes around two weeks
  • You, as the employer, need to provide fewer supporting documents with the application. A declaration from you that your new employee meets the conditions is usually sufficient
  • You can submit online applications in the Business Portal

Keep in mind that the process of becoming a sponsor might take from 30 to 90 days. Once you receive the positive sponsorship confirmation, you can start hiring internationally. You don’t need to become a sponsor if your employee applies for the Blue Card.

4. Spain: Residence Visa for Highly Skilled Professionals

One of the main work permits in Spain is the Residence Visa for Highly Skilled Professionals. This visa grants residence and work authorization to the following groups:

• Management or highly qualified staff of large businesses or corporate groups, or SMEs in strategic sectors.

• Management of highly qualified staff of business projects in the general interest.

• Graduates, postgrad

One of the main benefits of this work permit is the streamlined processing. The visa decisions are made and notified within ten working days. The residence permit decisions are normally completed within 20 days.

5. The United Kingdom: Skilled Worker Visa

The UK does not participate in the Blue Card scheme, but other work permit options are available for your talent. Especially post-Brexit, hiring internationally within the UK is a very relevant, but also complex topic.

Skilled Worker Visa (UK)

One common option if you want to employ someone in the UK is the Skilled Worker Visa. In this case, you, as the employer, will need to obtain a sponsorship license first. Find out if your business is eligible here. After becoming a sponsor, all visa applications are handled through the Sponsorship Management System for which you need to assign users respectively.

Your employee needs to meet the following criteria to be eligible for the skilled worker visa:

  1. Have a ‘certificate of sponsorship’ from you, the employer, with information about the role offered in the UK.
  2. Have a job that’s on the list of eligible occupations.
  3. Be paid a minimum salary, which can vary depending on the occupation.
  4. Prove knowledge of the English language when applying.

Different fees are usually charged when applying for the skilled worker visa, including the Certificate of Sponsorship fee, the immigration skills charge, the visa application fee as well as the healthcare surcharge.

6. Ireland: The Critical Skills Employment Permit

The Critical Skills Employment Permit is for skilled workers qualified in professions where there is a shortage of skills in Ireland. To apply for a Critical Skills Employment Permit or support your employee with the permit, you need to check the following criteria:

  • The employee must have the relevant qualifications, skills, and experience required for the job.
  • An annual salary of at least €32,000 a year in an occupation that is on the Critical Skills Occupation List
  • A yearly wage of €64,000 year in a domain that is not on the list of ineligible occupations
  • The job offer must be valid for two years or more.

It's essential to consider that you cannot get a work permit for a company where more than 50% are non-EEA nationals. This requirement can be waived, though, if your company is a start-up supported by Enterprise Ireland.

7. Portugal: The Portugal Highly Qualified Activity Visa

As implied in the title, the Portugal Highly Qualified Activity Visa is a visa for highly-qualified professionals. The Portuguese government defines highly-qualified work as: “That whose exercise requires specialized technical skills of an exceptional nature or an adequate qualification for the respective exercise”. For example:

  • Information and communication technology Professionals
  • Management positions such as Directors and Chiefs
  • Scientific researchers, professors, and PhD students in Portugal
  • Science, Engineering, and Health professionals
  • Legal, Social and Cultural Professionals with expertise

The Portugal HQA visa enables holders to live in Portugal with the same basic rights as Portuguese citizens and access to the country's public health system and other social services. Additional benefits include the ability to:

  • Apply for a residence permit valid for 1 year, and then renew every 2 years
  • Move freely through the countries that comprises the European Union and Schengen area
  • Apply for an EU Blue Card, after complying with its requirements
  • Bring family members
  • Apply for Portuguese citizenship after legally living in the country for more than 5 years
  • In order to apply for the Portugal HQA visa, applicants must have a work contract or job offer with a salary of at least 1.5 times the average national gross annual salary

The bottom line

When growing an international team, it’s essential to know what options are available in terms of work permits/visas. There are several options for international talent that wish to take up employment in Europe. Ultimately, the right choice will depend on professional qualifications and individual circumstances. 

Want to know more about work permits in Europe? Need help supporting employees with the visa process? Get in touch with us!

Please note: this article was originally published in 2021 and updated in 2022.

The contents of our website, specifically the articles discussing legal topics, are researched with the utmost care. However, we cannot assume any liability for the correctness, completeness, and topicality of the information provided. In particular, the information is of a general nature and does not contain legal advice in individual cases. For the solution of specific legal matters, please consult a lawyer.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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