Work Permits vs. Business Visas: What’s the difference?

November 21, 2016 Nidhi Madhavan

Work permits and business visas serve distinct purposes for international travelers

Employers can send employees to a foreign country for a variety of different business activities that include conferences, training, networking and work projects. Work permits and business visas both grant foreign nationals entry into a foreign country to conduct business activities, but the two have distinct purposes.

Business visas generally only allow holders to participate in tasks that can’t be considered work or gainful employment, while work permits grant holders the ability to perform services that would be considered a job or labor.

Understanding the difference between a work permit and business visas

What is a business visa?

Government authorities issue business visas to travelers who intend to conduct business activities and meetings that do not constitute labor or gainful employment in a specific country.

Common activities performed on a business visa:

  • Attend meetings
  • Business events/conferences
  • Investigate business opportunities and ventures

Some countries allow installation of goods (hardware, machinery) after a sale under a global business visa, but note that business visas involve only business logistics and relations, not actual labor or services. However, each country has different eligibility criteria for a business visa.

What is a work permit?

Work permits are issued by government authorities to foreign nationals who wish to earn an income or compensation overseas.

Common reasons to apply for a work permit:

  • Obtaining full-time or part-time employment
  • Working under contract
  • Contracted labor such as assembling an exhibit

Work permits allow foreign nationals to engage in employment, contracted labor or any activity that a country would interpret worthy of income or compensation. 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 your immigration legal team to determine what the country of interest interprets as “work.”

Work permits and business visas in the U.S.

Work permits and business visas to the U.S. are both issued by the Department of State. 

The B-1 visa for Business Visitors allows individuals to take short trips to the U.S. to conduct business matters such as contract negotiations, in-person consulting and attending conferences. 

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.

To learn more about the different employment-based visa and green card categories, download our comprehensive guide, The ABCs of Immigration. To find out how Envoy can help you seek international work authorization for your employees, contact us today.


Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Michelle Gong, who is a Global Immigration Manager on Envoy’s global team.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.

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