Moving a two income household overseas can present special problems for you and your spouse. When one partner leaves their job to become the “trailing spouse” they may face obstacles to finding gainful employment and you will need to factor this into your plans. Visa requirements vary from country to country and knowing what to expect will help you navigate the potential hardships of losing one of your incomes for a period of time or for the duration of your overseas assignment.
Spousal Work Visas
The Permits Foundation, an independent non-profit organization based in The Hague, Netherlands, works to help the spouses of expat workers gain legal employment. They provide information for relocating workers and their spouses and lobby for changes to allow spouses and dependents of relocated workers to work legally.
According to the Permits Foundation at least 30 countries allow married spouses to work and some even allow unmarried partners and children to work as well. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand provide unrestricted permission for spouses and partners to work, while Hong Kong allows married spouses to work. Japan, Malaysia and Singapore are not completely open but spousal work visa requirements are relatively simple.
Here is a country by country breakdown for major expat destinations in the Asia-Pacific region.
The temporary skilled worker visa (subclass 457) allows foreign workers sponsored by an approved company to work in Australia for up to 4 years. Under the visa their family, including spouses, domestic partners and dependents, may also work in Australia.
The spouses of foreigners working in Beijing may receive permission for employment with foreign or Chinese companies, international NGOs and private businesses with foreign investment. Check with Beijing’s official website for a statement on employment of spouses of foreign workers.
Once a spouse has reached a preliminary agreement with their potential employer, the employer must contact the Beijing Bureau of Labor to seek the relevant permit.
Spouses and dependents of professional workers and capital investors may work without prior permission from the Hong Kong immigration department. Refer to the Guidebook for Entry, located on the Hong Kong immigration website.
Currently there are no special allowances for the spouses or family of foreign workers. Spouses seeking employment need to be sponsored by an Indonesian company or individual and receive a visa to work in Indonesia prior to arriving.
Spouses of highly skilled workers, which include researchers, specialized technicians and managers engaged in developing Japanese companies and markets, are given special treatment. The normal immigration requirements for those spouses wishing to work in Japan will be waived providing they are to be employed in a skilled position with a specific employer. The new rules came into effect in May of 2012 and are subject to review.
South Korea does not have any exemptions from foreign worker laws for spouses of expat workers wishing to find employment. Spouses wishing to work in South Korea must obtain a work visa from a Korean embassy or consulate outside Korea.
Officially, spouses of expat workers are allowed to secure employment without changing from a dependent pass to an employment pass as long as they request an endorsement to work from the immigration department. The endorsement requires an offer of employment and for the sponsoring company to receive authorization from the appropriate authorities. Banks are required to get permission from the banking commission, investment companies from the securities commission, etc. Reports from expats and companies in Malaysia indicate that the procedure is not as straight forward as it sounds.
Spouses and partners of employees holding a work permit valid for 6 months or longer are allowed to work without restriction in New Zealand. No offer of employment is required. Details are available from Immigration New Zealand.
No exemptions or special considerations are offered by the Philippine government for spouses of expat workers under the Alien Employment Permit(AEP) regulations. Details of the requirements for applying for an AEP are available at the official government website.
A letter of consent from the Ministry of Manpower is all that is necessary for the spouse of a foreign worker holding an employment pass to work in Singapore. The application for the letter of consent must be completed by the company wishing to hire the foreign spouse. It generally takes no more than 7 days and there is no charge for the letter to be issued. Employment cannot begin until the employer receives the letter. Applications can be completed online through the Ministry of Manpower website.
According to official government sources, you are permitted to apply for and accept employment in Thailand while on a visitor visa. Before commencing work you must obtain a category B non-immigrant visa from the immigration bureau and a work permit. The application process can take up to a month. While you wait you must maintain your visitor visa or be fined and risk detention and deportation.
Foreigners found to be working in Thailand without a valid work permit are subject to imprisonment for up to 5 years, a $3,000 fine or both.
New rules, issued in September of 2013, require all foreigners wishing to work in Vietnam, obtain a work permit before arriving. The new legislation is designed to curb, what until now, has been the fairly common practice of workers entering Vietnam on a visitors visa and then overstaying their visa to live and work in Vietnam, sometimes for years.
Vietnamese companies wishing to hire foreign workers must first offer the job to qualified local workers for 2 months and then if the position remains unfilled, they must request permission from the appropriate state agency to hire a foreign worker. Some exemptions to these regulations are available to Vietnamese and foreign companies operating in Vietnam, but hiring is normally done well in advance.
Know Before You Go
Researching your destination and knowing as much as possible about what to expect will help make your transition smoother and your experience more positive. Remember to check that the salary you are being offered is going to allow you to maintain your standard of living in the country you are moving to.