To date, a significant number of foreign specialists are annually engaged by Kazakhstan employers to work in Kazakhstan. Every year the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan approves a quota for the next year for foreign specialists. The 2016 quota for foreign specialists constitutes 0.7% of the amount of economically active population of Kazakhstan, i.e. about 63,000 foreign specialists are eligible to work in Kazakhstan subject to certain qualification and other requirements.

According to the Rules regulating the procedure for issuance of permits to Kazakhstani employers for attracting foreign specialists and foreign employees under intra-company transfers, every Kazakhstani employer (a Kazakhstani legal entity, a branch or a representative office of a foreign company, or an individual hiring a foreign specialist) is required to obtain a work permit for each foreign specialist.

The Rules provide for a number of exemptions from the general requirement to obtain a work permit for certain categories of foreign specialists, including but not limited to specialists who are:

Citizens of the Russian Federation, the Republic of Belorus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia in observance of the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty;

Holding primary management positions in branches (head of branch) and representative offices (head of representative office) of foreign companies;

Holding primary management positions in companies that have made contracts with the Government of Kazakhstan for investments in value exceeding U.S. $ 50,000,000, and persons holding primary management positions in Kazakhstani companies carrying out investment activities in so-called priority sectors of economy (a list of such priority sectors is approved by the Government of Kazakhstan) under  investment contracts with a relevant Kazakhstani state authority;

Working in the Regional Financial Center of Almaty and holding positions of managers and specialists with university degrees;

Working in Kazakhstani companies that have made investment contracts for priority projects as well as working in organizations engaged by the Kazakhstani companies (or their contractors) in architectural, city planning and construction fields subject to special terms and conditions; and some others.

There are four categories of foreign specialists who are eligible to work in Kazakhstan, subject to qualification requirements:

First category includes top managers and their deputies;

Second category includes heads of structural divisions;

Third category includes specialists; and

Fourth category includes skilled and seasonal workers.

Specialists within the second, third, and fourth categories must comply with qualification requirements set forth by the Qualification Reference Book for managers and specialists approved by the Minister of Labour and Social Protection.

The procedure for obtaining the work permit is quite time-consuming and cumbersome and may take up to three months. A decision to issue or refuse to issue the work permit is made by a local (city or regional) executive authority called 'akimat' upon recommendation of the Commission for Issuance of work permit. The Commission makes the decision within 15 days from the date of receipt of a complete package of documents from the employer.

For the first category of foreign specialists, the work permit is issued for a 3-year term, with certain exceptions, and is usually extended for a 12-month term annually. For the second and third categories of foreign specialists, the work permit is issued for a 12-month and can be extended not more than twice.  For the fourth category of foreign specialists, the work permit is issued for a 12-month terms without any extension. Work permits issued within a priority project quota are issued for the term of such project.

The work permit is not transferrable to other Kazakhstani employers. It is valid only within the territory of a city/region of location of the employer or the priority project, as the case may be. Exceptions apply when Kazakhstani employers are sending foreign specialists on mission to companies located in other cities/regions of Kazakhstan. In this case, the term of the mission must not exceed 90 calendar days within one calendar year. It is important to note that the Kazakhstani employer must notify the local internal affairs authorities of travel of the foreign specialists both at the place of registration of the foreign specialists and at the place of their stay while on mission.

A foreign specialist traveling to Kazakhstan for work must obtain a working visa.  Kazakhstani working visas are issued by authorized state organs of Kazakhstan on the basis of the work permit.  Foreigners, citizens of the Eurasian Union, temporary staying in Kazakhstan must register with the Kazakhstani migration authorities within five calendar days from the moment of crossing the state border of Kazakhstan. Foreign specialists are registered by the relevant migration authorities for the term of the work permit.

There is a separate category of foreign specialists who are included in the list of foreign specialists for independent employment in Kazakhstan. Provided they comply with the qualification requirements, they are eligible to obtain an employment permit themselves for a term up to three years. A quota for this category of foreign specialists is also approved annually.

In 2017, the new Rules are expected to enter into force. Among the anticipated developments, the following are worth to be mentioned. It will take seven days as opposed to 15 days, as currently provided, for the work permit to be issued. Kazakhstani employers will be obliged to pay a state fee (equivalent of approximately US $800-1,500 depending on the category) for issuance/extension of a work permit. Foreign specialists who are qualified to be employed in the priority economy sectors will be eligible to apply for and obtain the work permit on their own. There will be a separate piece of legislation regulating this procedure.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.