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As India’s recent elections have shown, the world’s most populous country is more than capable of overcoming extraordinary logistical challenges—such as ensuring every one of its 969 million registered voters has reasonable access to a polling station; even those living in the deepest jungles of the subcontinent. How? A deeply entrenched bureaucracy. India is, in some senses, the home of paperwork. Little happens expeditiously on the subcontinent, but with the right documents to hand it will happen.

Employers looking to transfer, relocate, employ, or set up a subsidiary in the heart of Asia will need to know the ins and outs of how Indian work visas work—who they apply to, where responsibility lies, what the criteria for application is, and how to conduct the application process smoothly.

Given how complex applying for an Employment Visa in India can get, many businesses choose to work with an Employer of Record (EoR) who has a legal presence in the country, thus outsourcing their employee visa and immigration management to experts with years of experience in the industry.

Whether or not you choose the Employer of Record route, this guide is intended to better prepare you for expanding your employment operations in India.

The importance of outfitting employees with the right work permits in India

In contrast to the bustling energies of a Mumbai marketplace, Indian employment law is well-ordered, tightly regulated, and strictly enforced. Moreover, it is fairly rigid—with little flexibility baked into the sorts of permits and visas your employees will need to work there. Failure to comply with Indian employment and immigration law could result in any number of penalties, including:

  • Financial sanctions/fines
  • Forfeiture of bonds paid
  • Up to five years’ imprisonment for the employee

To reiterate, it is fundamental that you get your employees’ visas sorted out well in advance of their move to, or operations in, India.

Difference between a work permit and Indian work visa

There are a few different types of employment permits available to foreigners working in India, which may interchangeably be referred to as work permits or work/Employment Visas.

Defining the different types of work permits in India

The four main types of visas which employers should be aware of when looking to hire foreigners to work in India are as follows.

  • Employment Visa: The most common type of work visa used by expats in India. The Indian Employment Visa is typically tied to a specific employer and employee role, with a maximum duration of five years.
  • Project Visa: A short-term work permit which allows foreigners to work in India on a specific project, tied to a specific employer, for the duration of the project only.
  • Business Visa: Another relatively common type of work visa for expats, though one which differs considerably in nature from an Employment Visa India. The Business Visa does not allow for direct employment in India but does grant the recipient the right to conduct business-related activities for a set duration. These activities can include:
    • Business meetings
    • Negotiations
    • Market exploration
  • X, or Entry Visa: The Entry Visa, also known as an X Visa, is the documentation required by spouses moving to India with expat partners who have an appropriate Indian work visa.

It is important to note that a Tourist Visa cannot double as a work permit in India, nor be converted into an Employment Visa at any time during the applicant’s stay. In other words, digital nomads who begin their time in India on a Tourist Visa will not legally be allowed to work at any point.

If there is any possibility of your remote digital nomad employee conducting work for your company whilst in India, they must have an Employment Visa before entering the country.

At present, there is no specific Indian work permit or visa designed for digital nomads.

Who is responsible for the Indian work visa application process?

Indian companies or companies with a legal presence in India, seeking to hire outside talent bear primary responsibility for their employees’ visa and immigration applications. A foreign expat may not directly apply for an Employment Visa nor Business Visa without first acquiring the sponsorship of a company in India, and that company will then be responsible for assisting with the application process.

Key employer criteria

There are a number of hoops employers must jump through when sponsoring and assisting their employees with Indian Employment Visa applications.

  • The employer must be a registered Indian company or have a registered legal entity in India.
    • If a foreign company wishes to assist an employee in relocating to India, but do not wish to trigger Permanent Establishment (PE), then their best bet is to partner with an Employer of Record (EoR)—as mentioned in the introduction.
  • The employer must be able to prove that the expat fulfils a role which could not have been fulfilled to equal or greater quality by an Indian national.
  • The employer must recompense its employee a minimum salary of $25,000 USD, or Rs. 16.25 lakhs per annum.
  • The employer must prove that the employee is highly skilled and/or qualified and maintains said qualifications throughout the period of employment in India.
  • The employer must withhold and pay all applicable income taxes and payroll taxes to the Indian authorities on its employees’ behalf.
  • The employer must provide the Indian visa office with a fully furnished employment contract for each of the employees for whom they are seeking work permits.

Which employees need a work permit for working in India?

Ostensibly every foreign national, or expat, moving to India for work and/or employed in India will need an Employment Visa, Project Visa, or Business Visa—depending on the nature of their work. However, there are a few clear exemptions to this rule:

  • Diplomats: Most diplomatic staff, including consular officers and representatives of international organizations—as well as their families—do not usually require an Employment Visa in India.
  • United Nations officials: UN officials and their families will typically be held exempt from Employment Visa requirement.
  • Volunteers: Expats working for free or volunteering in India will not generally need an Employment Visa. Those volunteering for NGOs in India can be compensated up to a maximum of Rs. 10,000 per month—equivalent to about $120 USD per month, as of May 2024.

Documentation required for employees’ Indian work visa applications

In addition to the various criteria that employers must meet, the employees applying for Indian work visas must also present a veritable mountain of documentation to the High Commission or Embassy of India.

Employment Visa India documentation

  • A visa application form
  • A valid passport with a minimum of one year’s validity and three blank pages
  • Two passport photos
  • A photocopy of the passport information page
  • A letter of appointment from the employer, detailing the employee’s annual salary
  • An employment contract in English, containing the various conditions and length of employment
  • The employee’s CV, also in English
  • Proof of address (the employer’s current address, not the address they will occupy in India)
  • A letter of tax liability demonstrating that you, the employer, assumes full responsibility for the payment of taxes on the employee’s behalf
  • Photocopies of all documentation (e.g., diplomas) proving the employee’s professional experience and qualifications
  • A copy of the employing company’s Indian business registration certificate

Business Visa India documentation

In addition to the above documentation, employees applying for an Indian Business Visa must also bring the following:

  • Proof of financial standing
  • Proof of expertise in the proposed field, role, or industry
  • Written documentation detailing the proposed business activity to be conducted in India
  • Proof of the registration of any new business in India (only where applicable)

The Indian work permit application process in 6 steps

Once sponsored by an employer with a local branch or legal entity registered in India, the employee in question can begin the application process for an Employment or Business Visa—assisted by their employer throughout.

It is important to note that the application can be submitted in the employee’s country of residence or regular domicile provided that the employee has lived there for two years or more.

Below are the six steps necessary to apply for a work permit in India.

1. Employee accepts a genuine job offer: Prior to the visa application, the expat must secure a job offer from a registered Indian company or employer with a legal presence in India (such as an Employer of Record).

2. Employer submits their employee’s visa application: Next, the employer or sponsoring company must submit the Employment Visa application to the Indian Consulate or Mission in the employee’s country of residence/domicile, or online.

3. Application accompanied by all relevant documentation: Depending on the application process in the employee’s country, the employer must either provide all required documentation (as listed above) along with the online application, or the employee must bring the documents to their in-person visa interview.

4. The visa office processes the application: Processing time for each type of Indian work visa can vary, and may differ from country to country, taking anywhere from a few weeks to several months. At this juncture, application and visa fees must usually be paid.

5. Biometrics collected and interview conducted: Again, depending on the permit, the Indian Consulate may require the employee to visit for an in-person interview, and may also at that point collect biometrics (fingerprints, for example) from the employee.

6. The Employment Visa India is issued: Once approved, the Employment Visa India is approved, and the expat can enter India for work purposes at any point during the established duration of the visa.


The process of applying for your employees’ work visas in India can be complex and time-consuming, but with the aid of this guide—and, depending on your business’s resources, the assistance of an Employer of Record—it can be compliantly conducted without undue stress or complications.


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July 2024