In recent months, the Panamanian government has taken significant steps to ease restrictions that had been making it difficult for certain foreign nationals to work in Panama. Through its introduction of three new work permit categories benefiting highly-skilled workers, Italian nationals and parents of children born in Panama, the Panamanian government is further expanding its open-door immigration policy to push and build upon the country's unprecedented economic growth rate that it has been experiencing in recent years.

As the fastest-growing country in Latin America, Panama has seen an average annual growth rate of 8.5 percent with per capita GDP doubling over the past decade. A report by the International Monetary Fund highlights the fact that Panama's impressive growth performance has been driven by a steady rise in public and private investment in a stable economic environment that has been bolstered by sound policies. The International Organization for Migration also notes that the expansion of the Panama Canal, the real estate boom and the investments made by certain companies that have selected Panama as their central operations hub have positioned Panama as an extremely attractive country to multinational companies looking to utilize and benefit from such economic growth.

The three new work permit categories introduced by the Panamanian government earlier this year are the:

  • Highly-Skilled Worker Permit
  • Italian National Work Permit
  • Work Permit for Parents of Children Born in Panama

Although residence permits for foreign nationals in each of these categories had already been in place for some time, there were no specific work permit categories reserved for these individuals, forcing them to apply for an employer-based work permit subject to quotas. The introduction of the new work permit categories now makes it easier for these groups to secure both residence and work authorization in Panama.

Highly-Skilled Worker Permit

Under this new work permit category, which is exempt from quotas and local sponsorship requirements, there is no minimum level of professional experience that the applicant must possess. Applicants must hold a bachelor's or post-graduate degree, as well as a legalized copy of their original diploma. The Highly-Skilled Worker Permit can be renewed annually, and after two years, the work permit holder can apply for permanent residence.

Italian National Work Permit

Based on a treaty between Panama and Italy, work permits are now available to Italian nationals. The Italian National Work Permit is exempt from quota and local sponsorship requirements and will be issued with indefinite validity.  

Work Permit for Parents of Children Born in Panama

Parents of children, who were born in Panama and are at least five years old, are eligible to apply under this new work permit category. The work permit can be renewed annually, and after two years, the permit holder may apply for permanent residence. This work permit is also exempt from quotas and local sponsorship requirements.

Eligible applicants for each of these work permit categories can expect processing times of approximately three months. It is important to note that Panamanian laws still prohibit work permit holders from working in certain professional occupations, such as accounting, architecture, dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, nursing and others.