Global Immigration 101:  It’s Not Rocket Science… Supporting Documentation for Work Permit and Visa Applications, Authentication, Legalisation, and Apostille Simplified

By Kent O’Neil, Global Legal Analyst, Newland Chase

For successful mobility managers, school is always in session. In an industry where the only thing that is constant is everything is always changing… success depends on continually keeping abreast of new immigration rules and processes… and reminding ourselves of the same old basics vital to successful international assignments.

Whether you’re a “PhD” with years of handling your company’s international workforce… or the “new kid in class”, Newland Chase has you covered. Follow our continuing Global Immigration 101 blog series as each month we take a look at a different basic but vital aspect of immigration for short-term and long-term international business and work assignments. No tuition bills, student loans, number 2 pencils, term papers, end-of-semester exams, or all-nightersjust practical information and sage advice from the “real world” of mobility. (You’re welcome.) If you missed our last class session on “Free Trade Agreement and International Unions… and Their Impact on Global Mobility… you can copy my notes here.

In this month’s session, we tackle the eternal scourge of global immigration – paperwork… more specially, supporting documents and their authentication, legalisation, and apostille.

“We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.”

 – Werner von Braun (the “father of rocket science”)

Global immigration may not be rocket science… but it apparently shares one similarity about which Dr. von Braun lamented – the paperwork. While it is probably the least sexy topic I could choose for this week’s blog - it is without a doubt one of the most critical aspects of successfully and quickly obtaining work permits, work visas, business visas, residence permits, and virtually any other form of entry or immigration authorisation into a country. If there is one variable that potentially adds the most time and delay to applying for a permit or visa, it’s obtaining the proper supporting documents and in the proper form.

What Are They?

What I’m talking about are those pesky lists of supporting documents – above and beyond merely completing the necessary application form – that must be included in the application packet to get your permit or visa. This may include some or all of the following:

  • University and other education diplomas and certificates;
  • Professional licences or certificates;
  • Employment contracts, letters, and records;
  • Birth certificates, marriage certificates, adoption decrees;
  • Criminal clearance certificates;
  • Bank account statements;
  • Social security certificates;
  • Company contracts, records, tax returns and receipts, incorporation and registration documents; and
  • Other government or court records.

How Do We Get Them?

Thankfully, some of the required documents are already easily within reach. Employment contracts and other HR records (such as assignment letters, job descriptions, proof of salary and seniority, etc.)  and company records (such as incorporation certificates and registrations, board resolutions, tax returns and receipts, etc.) are usually in the possession of the applicant and employer, or at least easily obtainable with a few phone calls or emails.

Others may need to be obtained from issuing government agencies, educational institutions, law enforcement, or licensing authorities. Particularly onerous can be the requirement in some countries of obtaining updated criminal background clearances from every country where an applicant has lived for sometimes as little as six months. (Maybe more on this in a future class session.)

It can’t be stressed enough… starting early, well ahead of the expected start of an international assignment, is the key to avoiding delays in the visa or permit application process. While consulate and government agency delays can’t necessarily be anticipated or avoided – obtaining the necessary supporting documentation is for the most part in the control of the applicant, company, and their immigration service provider. Getting those documents early can often cut weeks or months off a work permit or visa application process.      

Why Aren’t Copies Enough?

Immigration authorities and consular posts in many countries routinely accept copies of documents required in the permit or visa application. In other countries, whether copies, originals, legalised or apostilled, are required may depend on the particular consular post or consular officer, the document being applied for, or the nationality of the applicant. In still other countries, unauthenticated copies are never accepted.

We’ve all heard the terms notarisation, authentication, legalisation, certification, and apostille. In short, these are all terms of art for different methods and steps in the process to have a document in a form that will be accepted by the ultimate user of the document. In the case of visas and immigration, we need the document to be accepted by a particular consulate, immigration department, or labour department.

Notarisation

This is first step of two steps in Authentication (see below). Notarisation is normally in the form of a seal placed on a document by a notary public or similar government-authorised officer that attests or certifies that the document is authentic. Generally, the notarisation gives the document authenticity within the country or jurisdiction where the notary public or officer is appointed. However, further steps are necessary for the document to be given authenticity in foreign countries.

Authentication

In general, authentication is the term for the process that takes place in order to give a document authority or legal recognition in another country or jurisdiction. Authentication can be accomplished by one of two methods, depending on the country or jurisdiction where the document will ultimately be used – (1) Legalisation or (2) Apostille.  

Legalisation

Once a document is notarised, it may need to go through several additional steps in order to be “legalised”. Those steps depend on the party or governmental body that issues or originates the document.

As an example of how long this process might be  documents originating from a local governmental body (such as birth certificates or marriage certificates) or documents produced by private parties (diplomas and certificates, contracts, powers of attorney, etc.) in the United States might go through a several step process of:

  1. Legalisation by the County Clerk, then…
  2. Legalisation by the Secretary of State of the state government,
  3. Legalisation by the U.S. Department of State, and finally…
  4. Legalisation by the U.S. embassy of the foreign country where the document will ultimately be used.

Or… it might follow a more abbreviated path through steps #1 and #2 and then go right to the foreign country’s consulate for final legalisation. For documents issued by federal-level agencies, the process is obviously shorter, skipping the local and state level steps.

So you may be getting the idea that legalisation is often more art than science. And you would be correct. A real pain in the neck huh? Bottom line: Follow the requirements set by the particular country’s consular post or government agency for documents that you will be submitting to them. Requirements and terminology can vary significantly.  

To further confuse matters… you will also commonly see the term “certification” used as simply another term for legalisation. So stay calm and carry on; it’s usually the same thing.

Apostille

Now you know why immigration and visa specialists get positively giddy upon finding out that a particular country for which they are submitting an application has adopted The Hague Apostille Convention. It significantly simplifies and shortens the process. Currently, there are 117 countries that are signatories to The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. (The official list of signatory nations can be found here.) As the formal name suggests, these countries have done away with the requirement to have documents originating outside their borders formally legalised through the arduous process outlined above. In its place, they’ve adopted a legalisation or certification called an apostille.

An apostille is essentially an internationally recognised notation placed on a document by a designated government agency in the originating country that allows the document to be accepted in any other country that has adopted the Apostille Convention. In the United States, those agencies are the various Secretaries of State for each of the 50 states. In the United Kingdom, the designated agency is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Note, however, in order to be apostilled by the designated agency, the document must first be either notarised or issued by an official recognised by that agency as competent to notarise or issue the document.

Once apostilled, the document is accepted by officials and agencies in all of the 117 countries that participate in the Apostille Convention. So bear in mind that in order to enjoy the benefit of an apostille, both the country where the document originates and the country where the document will be used must be signatories to the convention.

Good News… Class Dismissed

My congratulations and apologies to all you brave souls that have stuck with me to the conclusion of this week’s blog. Hopefully, this week’s focus on the legal minutia of supporting documents, authentication, legalisation, and apostilles doesn’t have you sleeping in class.

The good news is… for those HR and mobility managers whose companies employ specialist immigration and visa providers (hint, like Newland Chase), much of the burden of obtaining the necessary documents and ensuring that they are in proper form is done for you. But maybe now you can appreciate why your immigration providers sometimes have to answer your question “how long will this take?” with “it depends…” and benefit from the main take-away: Always start the application process early.

Until the next exciting Global Immigration 101 class session, keep reading our alerts and blogs on the Newland Chase website at blog.newlandchase.com to keep on top of all the latest in global immigration news you can use. And as always… don’t hesitate to reach out to your faithful instructor at Kent.Oneil@newlandchase.com. For general inquiries regarding how Newland Chase can make your life easier in any of the 130+ countries where we operate and you do business, email us at enquiries@newlandchase.com.

Kent O’Neil is a Global Legal Analyst and frequent writer and speaker on international business and global corporate mobility for Newland Chase. Kent received his Juris Doctor from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law and a Bachelors in Economics from Clarion University. Prior to joining Newland Chase, he worked in both private practice and in-house for a multinational corporation operating across North America, Europe, Asia, and the APAC region. Now based in the U.S., Kent has lived and worked as an expat in Pakistan and the Philippines.

This blog is informational only and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment’s notice without warning or notice. Please reach out to your Newland Chase contact should you require any additional clarification or guidance. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content published or provided by Newland Chase that extend beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing any permissions rests with those persons wishing to reuse this blog or any of its content.