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Trend In Dependent Visas Generally Positive But Not In All Markets

dependent visas
Dependent visas allow spouses and family members to travel for the purpose of accompanying a family member with a corresponding visa type. Fragomen’s research shows a generally positive trend in many countries but sees a constriction in some countries.


Fragomen, the leading immigration law firm, has published research on the workings of immigration systems across 113 countries.   The research investigates the extent to which government immigration systems either restrict or allow the entry/settlement of ‘people who bring their partner/other dependents with them’ – particularly in terms of whether they will be able to work in the respective country.

Notable highlights from the research include:

  • Governments are increasing legally recognising same-sex partners: of the 113 countries surveyed, 41 countries (36%) recognised same-sex relationships. The remainder did not.
  • Countries with restrictive immigration systems may become less competitive: the US and UK, for instance, will likely face challenges with access to international talent
  • More countries are opening-up to dependents: overall globally, countries are becoming less restrictive about allowing dependents to work/live alongside their partner


Global mobility professionals agree that supportive visa policies for dependents are an essential factor in the mobility of international talent. Providing employment opportunities for the family members of recruitment candidates improves recruitment success and retention and, when properly managed, has a positive economic impact on the host country. Recent research undertaken by Fragomen, the world’s leading provider of immigration services, into the dependents visa policy of 113 countries, paints a positive picture on how countries are progressing on this important issue.

At the same time, the research, conducted in markets across Europe, Africa, APAC and the Americas, shows that the geopolitical landscape and protectionist trends have resulted in a tightening of rules in some countries.

Of the 113 countries surveyed, 34 countries (30%) conferred automatic work authorisation to dependent spouses, 41 countries (36%) recognised same-sex relationships and 44 countries (39%) recognised non-married partners.

The research mirrors the findings of the Permits Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, campaigning globally for work authorisation of spouses and partners, directly linked to dependent visas.


Julia Onslow-Cole, Partner, Government Strategies and Compliance, Fragomen, comments: “All global mobility professionals agree that an essential ingredient for a successful international assignment is a happy partner. Tolerance in relation to dependent visas can also lead to increased talent retention for local businesses. Until recently, dependent work visa policies had seen a growing level of diversity, but unfortunately while progress has been made, several countries continue to tighten their policies around dependent visa applications.”


The following examples shed a spotlight on the trends and concerns:

  • Countries with restrictive dependent work permit rules may become less competitive:
    • In the UK, the Government’s Future skills-based immigration white paper proposes a short-term visa route, to allow nationals from certain low-risk countries to work in the UK for 12 months, without access for dependents, a significant departure from traditional UK immigration practice. Similarly, the alternative Youth Mobility visa (applicable to those age 18-30), which the Government believes may supplement the lower skilled worker sector, does not currently permit family members to apply for a dependent visa. In both cases the absence of a dependent visa element may significantly reduce the UK’s attractiveness for international workers
    • This is paralleled within the USA, where, despite an exceedingly low unemployment rate, particularly at higher skill levels, the Government is expected to rescind the H-4 EAD programme, allowing the spouses of certain professional workers in speciality occupations to work. This will place a further burden on professional families awaiting permanent residency and may give employers in other countries a competitive advantage in the race for talent


  • The definition of a dependent is broader:
    • More countries are implementing relaxed rules for dependents, allowing same sex partners to benefit from dependent status. Hong Kong announced that same sex and opposite sex partners were eligible to apply for dependent status in September 2018. Likewise, following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, all EU countries must recognise same-sex marriages when considering applications for residence. As a result, EU nationals who move to any other EU country can sponsor a same-sex spouse as their dependant. (June 2018)
    • Since January, Canadian nationals and permanent residents can submit forms to sponsor their parents and grandparents for permanent residency


  • Work authorisation for dependents more widespread:
    • In total, 34 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific now allow spouses or partners, and occasionally children, to work
    • Ireland is the latest such example, with the Irish Government announcing in March that spouses and partners of critical skills employment permit holders will have full access to the employment market


Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, Board Member of Permits Foundation, comments: “We urge governments to adopt policies that grant direct work authorisation to dependents. It makes it easier for partners to find work and reduces the administrative burden for employers and the authorities. It also means that families can integrate more quickly and contribute to the economy through their taxes and improved spending power. Everyone benefits.”


Kay Hall, SVP, Global Advisory Services, NetExpat, an organisation that supports the integration of accompanying partners of relocating employees, adds: “The majority of partners we assist want to be able to work in the host country and any required administration has the potential to block the move. It goes without saying that, if a country tightens its immigration rules for accompanying partners, as we are seeing in the UK and US, these destinations become more difficult for companies to attract key talent into, which will eventually inhibit market growth and the importance of that host location.”