July 25, 2010

The Visa Series Part III: Permanent Residence Visas

We’ve talked about the more basic kinds of visas – tourist and temporary – which are (relatively) painless to apply for and obtain

. The permanent residency visa for working abroad is an entirely different kettle of fish. It is nearly impossible to be exhaustive about what it takes to obtain a permanent residence visa abroad for any one country, let alone all of them – there is so much information, I am bound to leave something out. Instead, I will try to give you the basics so that when you are ready to apply, you know what to have, what to know, and what to ask. Here we go!

What can I do as a permanent resident?

As a permanent resident of a foreign country, you have the right to live, work and/or study in that country indefinitely. In most cases, you also can travel across borders to neighboring countries, to your home country, or on vacation. Some countries (like Australia) put restrictions on the amount of time that you have for unrestricted travel without having to obtain an additional visa. While others (like New Zealand) have more relaxed restrictions for permanent residents. Some countries allow permanent residents to apply for medical and social security benefits, which also means that most permanent residents will pay income and other taxes.

What can’t I do as a permanent resident?

As a permanent resident, you are not a citizen You do not have the right to vote (usually) and you will not be issued a passport. Most countries will issue some sort of identification card, or you will be required to carry your passport, which will contain your permanent residence visa. You are eligible to apply to be come a citizen, as a result of being granted permanent residency status. Being a permanent resident allows you to hold a job, but there are some jobs that you probably won’t be able to get – like public sector, national security and political jobs. It is also important to note that you probably can’t quit or lose your job as a permanent resident, if your visa is labor-related. If you come to a country to work, you must keep on working in order to stay. This goes without saying, but anything that might indicate that you are a threat to national security will also result in revocation of your permanent resident visa.

Where can I apply for a permanent residency visa?

Not every country has a permanent resident program. Much of the time, the country’s own economic and political stability will dictate whether they will allow foreigners to reside and work permanently. All European Union countries have a permanent residence program, as well as English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. China, Japan and South Korea also have programs for people seeking long-term employment. The office of immigration in each country will be able to tell you with certainty whether or not US citizens qualify for permanent residence.

What is the process of obtaining a permanent residence visa?

Again, this is going to vary significantly from country to country. However, there are some general rules:

  1. Determine what type of permanent residence visa you need. There is very rarely just one type – categories include: Migrant (skilled labor – this applies to most people working abroad), Humanitarian (political refugee), Family (you might qualify if you have family that are currently citizens). There are not exhaustive, and in most cases a labor-related visa will be the most appropriate for someone working abroad.
  2. If (like most people) you are looking for a labor-related or Migrant visa, obtain a letter of support from your employer abroad. In some countries, and letter that states the type of employment, salary and dates (which could be indefinite) will suffice, in others there are specific forms that must be filled out by your employer.
  3. Secure your finances. Even if you have job, most governments will need proof that you have enough money in a domestic bank account to live. This might mean that you have to first obtain a temporary resident visa before moving on to the permanent resident visa, since you can’t always open a bank account without some sort of residency. Alternatively, you might need to have a fiscal sponsor who is a citizen and agrees to take responsibility or vouch for you financially. There is little that a sponsor actually needs to do for you other than sign a piece of paper, but this should be someone with whom you have a good relationship, since you are entering into a legal agreement with him/her.
  4. Wait. Visas take time. They often mean traveling to multiple offices, talking to multiple people, answering the same questions again and again, and sometimes taking 3-5 different passport/ID photos. It can seem like a never-ending process, but all if really takes is time and patience. There are so many people traveling abroad to work that visa offices can often be swamped with paperwork. Don’t take it personally! Just beware of deadlines, and submit your forms as soon as possible.

These are the basic things that you should know about becoming a permanent resident to work abroad. The best source of information about the visa process, aside from the immigration department or your home embassy, is someone who has been in your shoes and obtained a visa in the past. They will be able to give you the kind of first-hand information that you will help you be prepared, which should also calm your nerves a bit!

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