How hard is it to get a work visa as an expat in Europe?

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Published on 2022-01-25 at 10:00 by Ester Rodrigues
Students and workers as expats are constantly searching for working visa information online, with experts and in social media groups to try to connect with others with common experiences. But, the working visa process that was already complicated during the pandemic has been worsened. 

Expat students who are interested in working in Europe or who must work to pay their expenses have to be careful when choosing the country they want to live in. They have to thoroughly research the specific requirements, obligations, and rights when applying for a student visa. Spain, for example, only allows expats with student visas to work up to 20 hours a week. That requirement makes it almost impossible for students to find a job, as companies in Spain usually hire for at least 30 hours a week, considering this part-time or internship. Supposing an expat in Spain finds a job at an enterprise that accepts its short-working hours and after his/her studies' completion, wants to hire the expat as a full-time employee as a highly qualified professional, the company will have to pay a salary that is 1.5% higher than the average for the role in Spain. 

Although the company is interested, they will have a lot of red tape to make the contract according to government requirements, which during the pandemic is going slower than normal. It seems that the working visa process is made to be a challenge for expats to find a job in the host country, and within the pandemic is even more uncertain. Many countries since last year were just allowing essential service expats to apply, and in some countries like Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, the consulates closed, accumulating a lot of visa requests. 

Worker expats who are interested in leaving their countries with a working visa can find the process a bit easier than the students do, however considering the pandemic, the process can also take longer than normal. Moreover, to find a job in Europe, as a worker living abroad, expats must have outstanding experience in the field. It is easier for seniors, for instance, who have strong network connections, or who already work for an international company, to relocate. According to a report by McKinsey and Company from 2020, the most highly skilled individuals enjoy the strongest job growth over the last decade, while middle-skill workers have fewer opportunities. Also, COVID-19 and increased automation adoption triggered by the pandemic can accelerate this trend. 

There are job opportunities 

What sometimes can be very frustrating is that there are job opportunities in several areas and for workers from different backgrounds as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the European Jobs and Mobility Portal (EURES) 2.6 % of jobs in the euro area and 2.4 % of jobs in the EU were vacant in the third quarter of 2021. Additionally, 5.1 % of jobs in the Czech Republic were vacant in the third quarter of 2021, the highest value in the EU, followed by Belgium (4.7 %) and the Netherlands (4.2 %). The issue is that national companies are not interested in sponsoring an employee for working visas, as it usually delays the employment process. There's a lot of paperwork, and it may include extra taxes or other responsibilities for them. 

In the UK, the job posts are so clear that they are not available for expats that during the application itself, there are often questions like: do you hold the UK or EU passport? Have you the right to work in the UK? Would you require now or in the future assistance for sponsoring a visa? For expats from outside Europe, these questions are a sign that they are not included. Switzerland companies also do the same and even ask what sort of permission visa the expat has. In the end, expats might have great work experience, academic background and the right skills for the roles, but they simply won't be selected because they aren't Europeans. What is ironic is that expats from abroad can't work if they don't have a working visa, but they can't do a working visa if they don't have a job offer. It is a path without a solution for many, as for Caroline, an expat student who comes from South America and is living in Spain. “I did almost 13 interviews, I passed at several levels, and in the end, I was rejected for the fact that I couldn't work more than 20 hours a week. Even the internships at the university I study, which are just for 20 hours, don't allow me to apply because I'm not a resident.” 

“Diversity and equity politics”: What can expats do? 

Most companies have their values rooted in “Diversity and equity” during the working process. However, just a few are willing to truly go beyond tokenism and apply their diversity policy to expats outside their continent. Despite the frustration expats may feel, there are some solutions to search for as: freelancer opportunities, temporary jobs that don't require a visa, but rather a contract, and international companies. The last one can be a good way to do the traditional working visa and pass through all the bureaucracy. Multinational enterprises are used to having employees from all over the world. They are keen to do the working visa process, as they have experience and, in some cases, even lawyers to assist expats throughout the process.