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Immigration affairs can be intimidating for the uninitiated. One wrong move may mean an unsuccessful application, compliance issues for your employer or long-term implications for your international travel. In the article, we run you through the essentials you should know before the start of your expat life.
We often hear the words, visa and permit, being thrown around, but what is the difference between the two? In layman terms, a visa is issued by the authorities for you to enter and exit the country within a short time frame. The approval is based on the details in the application you have sent. A residence permit, on the other hand, grants you a period of stay that is longer than your visa validity duration.
Basic documentations required for visa and permit applications include a passport-sized photo, original passport, bank statements, proof of study/employment/ travel/marriage/family relationship, a completed specific immigration form from the country and a processing fee.
Before you go into it, check if you need to apply for one at all. Some passports are eligible for no-visa entry while some allow you to pay for one upon arrival. Most countries have a visa waiver programme and the list of countries allowed to enter visa-free will be listed on their immigration website. According to the website here, there are currently 38 countries eligible for the United States of America’s programme. Australian citizens, meanwhile, can stay as long as they want in New Zealand, and up to six months in the United Kingdom without a visa.
There are two kinds of visa – temporary and long-term. The former, which usually allows you a short-term stay of around three months, is issued to visitors, tourists and students. There are selected countries, such as India, that offer an exceptional six-month tourist visa but those are a rarity. A long-term visa, meanwhile, will give a stay of around six months and is usually granted to working expats or spouses who are seeking permanent residency.
Depending on your background and purpose of visit, you will have to apply for different permits. It varies from country to country but some of the typical categories include:
For travellers entering the country for short-term pleasure, family visiting, medical treatment and business meetings.
For students pursuing a full course at a school in the host country; visa will be valid for the duration of study.
For fiancés, fiancées, spouses, immediate family members.
For property investors or traders.
Journalist, physician, professor, practitioner in highly-specialised fields or with extraordinary abilities.
Intra-company delegates, au pair, religious worker, expats working abroad.
Diplomat, government officials, international athletes.
Different visas and permits have their own conditions and entitlements tied to them. It is important to ensure that you have applied for the right category because a conversion can be difficult. In many cases, the applicant has to exit the country and re-enter to do so. Also, those who have obtained residency and would like to leave the country temporarily for a few months will have to apply for re-entry permits in some countries or they risk losing their status.
If applicants fail to obtain a permit before the visa expires, they will be “overstaying their visa” and be considered illegal residents. Even one day of overstaying can have serious repercussions including being:
Request for a visa extension if unforeseen circumstances beyond your control crop up and you foresee that you will exceed the expiry date. This will protect you from the overstaying implications listed above. However, be prepared that some countries charge a hefty sum for “emergencies”. Philippines, known for its short processing time and longer period of extension, charges over USD$150 for one visa extension. It includes costs such as express lane, making of ID card and taxes.
Before we end off, here are some tips that you cannot go wrong with. Seek legal assistance in the unfortunate event that you have overstayed. Your attorney can fight your case and help request for a waiver. Go to a specialist here to find all the service providers you need for your relocation. More relevant information can also be found on your local embassy website or is just a phone call away.
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