Top Ten EU Countries Granting Work Visas

Eurostat reports that in 2014, European Union (EU) countries issued 2.3 million first residence permits. Citizens of Ukraine, the United States, and China were the main beneficiaries. Of these first residence permits, 24.8% were issued for employment. This means 572,414 first residence permits were issued for employment.

First Residence Permits

The EU countries that issued the most first residence permits during 2014 were:

  • United Kingdom – 567,806 permits (24.6% of the total issued in the EU)
  • Poland – 355,418 permits (15.4% of the total)
  • Germany – 237,627 (10.3%)
  • France – 218,267 (9.5%)
  • Italy – 204,335 (8.9%)
  • Spain – 188,573 (8.2%)
  • Sweden – 107,987 (4.7%)
  • Netherlands – 69,569 (3.0%)
  • Belgium – 43,823 (1.9%)
  • Switzerland – 43,252 (not an EU member, but has an agreement with the EU)

The countries that issued the most first residence permits for employment reasons during 2014 were:

  • Poland – 206,176
  • United Kingdom – 116,707
  • Italy – 53,327
  • Spain – 42,379
  • Germany – 29.275
  • France – 19,118
  • Sweden – 14,857
  • Switzerland – 12,776 (not an EU member, but has an agreement with the EU)
  • Netherlands – 11,780
  • Czech Republic – 11,083

Poland was the most popular country for work permits during 2014, with many coming from Ukraine. The United Kingdom was the second most popular country for work permits, with many coming from India, America, and China.

The citizenship of the most first residence permits for employment reasons during 2014 were:

  • Ukraine – 206,422
  • India – 54,676
  • United States – 40,839
  • China – 22,271
  • Morocco – 15,077
  • Russia – 12,867
  • Brazil – 7,885
  • Belarus – 5,608
  • Turkey – 5,066
  • Syria – 1,407

It is interesting to look at the statistics for the EU countries that grant the most work visas. As part of the evaluation, it is important to look at how many residents of other EU countries move from one EU country to another and compare this process to non-residents of EU countries wanting to enter an EU country to work.

EU Nationals

Moving from one EU country to another for the purpose of finding a job is a straightforward process. There are 28 countries in the EU that in total have a population of over 508 million people. Citizens of EU countries have the right to work in any EU country without needing to obtain a work permit.

Any EU National has the right to look for work in any EU member state. They receive the same help from national employment offices as citizens of the host country. They have the right to stay in any EU country, while looking for work and have the right to remain as long as they continue to look for work.

Non-EU Nationals

Depending on the family status of any Non-EU national and the country they came from, some non-EU nationals need to get a work permit in order to work in an EU country.

When a national from an EU nation is working in an EU country other than their home country, all family members have the right to reside and work in that country that does not depend on their nationality. They do not need a work permit. Additionally, their children have the right to get a public education.

Special Cases

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway

Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway receive special treatment. Even though these three countries are not yet members of the EU, nationals from these countries may work in the EU as if they are from EU countries.

Some workers from a few EU countries, namely, Romania and Bulgaria, cannot work without a permit in Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.


The EU made an agreement with the government of Switzerland that allows most citizens of the EU permission to work in Switzerland without needing a work permit. Restrictions apply to citizens of Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia. Citizens of those nations need a work permit to work in Switzerland.

Moreover, Swiss citizens need a work permit to work in Croatia.

Workers from Turkey

Special rules apply to workers in the EU which are of Turkish nationality. Turkish workers need to have a work permit. After one year of legal employment in any EU country, the worker from Turkey can apply for a renewal of a work permit, if the same employer has a job available.

After three years of legal employment, they can change employers and work for another company in the same line of work. After four years of legal employment in any EU country, a worker from Turkey is free to look for any paid employment in that country with any employer.

Workers’ Rights

Any national from the following countries who has the legal right to work in the EU is entitled to the same protection of workers’ rights as the nationals of the host country. The protected workers include those from these countries:

  • Albania
  • Algeria
  • Andorra
  • Croatia
  • Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Russia
  • San Marino
  • Tunisia

plus 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Eurostat reports that 13.6 million EU citizens live in a different EU country other than the country of their citizenship.

Workers Who Need a Work Permit

For those workers who do not qualify under all the exceptions listed above, they will need to apply for a work permit to work in an EU country. The regulations differ for each country.

Eurostat reports that there are close to 21 million foreigners living in the EU that are citizens of non-EU countries. The statistics come from 2012, which is the last year that these numbers were counted.

The countries with the largest number of citizens from non-EU countries are these:

  1. Germany – 4,665,000 representing 5.7% of the total German population
  2. Italy – 3,375,400 representing 5.5% of the total Italian population
  3. Spain – 3,207,600 representing 6.9% of the total Spanish population
  4. France – 2,505,200 representing 3.8% of the total French population
  5. United Kingdom – 2,458,200 representing 3.9% of the total UK population

Getting an EU Work Permit

For non-EU citizens getting a work permit, the most likely candidates must have very specialized scientific, technical, or professional expertise.

In general, a company must first look for a qualified EU worker before seeking a non-EU worker for the position. There is a requirement to advertise the position and show proof that no qualified candidates are in the EU.

For highly qualified workers that fill very specific needs, an EU-based organization can sponsor them for a work permit. There are over one million job vacancies listed in the EURES system, with three-quarters of them being permanent jobs and one-quarter of them being temporary jobs. Over 900,000 are full-time and about 110,000 are part-time jobs.

As of June 2016, the largest numbers of job vacancies are in these countries:

  • Germany – 530,398
  • Belgium – 127,109
  • France – 125,525
  • United Kingdom – 54,816
  • Czech Republic – 52,316
  • Netherlands – 38,785
  • Sweden – 38,142
  • Poland – 35,804
  • Austria – 32,444
  • Finland – 15,049

A great resource for information about job vacancies is to look at the job offers on This is the place to look for highly technical jobs that offer a good chance for non-EU workers to be able to get a work permit.


Candidates with special skills, sponsored by EU companies, can obtain a work permit if there are no qualified workers in the EU to fill the position.

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