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Work permits and business visas serve distinct purposes for
Employers can send employees to different countries for various
corporate activities, including attending conferences, training,
networking and work projects. Work permits and business visas both
grant foreign nationals legal entry into a foreign country to
conduct activities, but the two have distinct purposes.
Business visas generally only allow holders to participate in
tasks that are not considered work or gainful employment, while
work permits grant holders the ability to perform services that
would be considered productive work in the host location.
Understanding the difference between a work permit and
What is a business visa?
Government authorities issue business visas to travelers who
intend to conduct permissible business activities and attend
meetings that do not constitute labor or employment in a specific
Common activities performed on a business visa include:
- Attending meetings
- Attending business events/conferences
- Investigating business opportunities and ventures
The most critical element is that business visas typically
involve only business logistics and relations, not actual labor or
However, the permissions granted to a holder of a business visa
differ from country to country. For instance, some countries allow
business visa holders to perform the installation of goods
(hardware, machinery) after a sale, while other countries may
require a work permit for this same service. Some countries even
offer foreign nationals of select countries the option to conduct
permissible business activities without
requiring a visa.
Business visas are also often different from work permits as
they are only granted for a temporary short-term period while,
generally, work permits can be granted for longer periods. Many
business visas are valid for 30 to 90 days within a 180-day period.
However, some business visas are granted for as little as 15 days
or for periods longer than 90 days.?
The conditions of entry often vary as well, with some business
visas permitting multiple entries into the country of issuance
throughout the duration of its validity.
What is a work permit?
Work permits are issued by government authorities to foreign
nationals who earn an income or compensation through work performed
overseas or provide temporary services in the host location.
Productive work in this context is defined differently depending on
the activity and the host country.
Common reasons to apply for a work permit:
- Obtaining full-time or part-time employment
- Project-based activity
- Working under contract
- Transferred from a host entity to an affiliated entity located
in another country
Work permits allow foreign nationals to engage in paid work,
contracted labor, or any activity that a country would interpret as
requiring an income or compensation. The duration of a work permit
varies significantly from country to country, with some remaining
valid for six months or as long as a year or more.
The process for obtaining a work permit is generally longer and
more in-depth than a business visa, and the timeline and
application processes vary greatly by country. Ultimately, each
country has different requirements to apply for a work permit, so
before moving forward with the permit application process for an
employee, be sure to consult with your legal team to determine what
the country of interest interprets as “work.”
Work permits and business visas in the U.S.
Visas used for entry into the U.S. are issued by the Department
The B-1 visa for Business
Visitors allows individuals to take short trips to
the U.S. to conduct business matters such as meetings and attending
On the other hand, foreign nationals seeking work authorization
in the U.S. can apply for a variety of different temporary work
visas. Each has different eligibility criteria
based on the type of work being performed.
Entry permissions and terms differ based on the destination
country and the traveler’s background. Envoy’s Global Legal
Team helps clients determine which work authorization is most
appropriate, and, based on that determination, outlines what
documents are required and how to navigate the resulting
Originally published 04 October 2022
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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