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Updated! the Michelle Obama factor: Make it easier for trailing spouses to get work permits

Startups should tap into the talent, experience and expertise of trailing partners and sidelined spouses. A streamlined visa/work permit programme would make it easier!

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23 20

Written by DeletedUser

Updated the concept to highlight the need for a more streamlined process for trailing spouses to get work permits in the EEA. By reaching out to people who have left their own careers to follow their partners, startups benefit from a mobile and experienced workforce. The systems set up to allow expat spouses to contribute from anywhere in the world also would also provide a way for stay-at-home parents and others who have taken a break from their careers to contribute.


Let's call it the Michelle Obama factor: When a person steps away from his or her own career to raise a family or follow a spouse's job, there's plenty of talent and expertise that can still be put to good use. Web entrepreneurs can benefit from this diverse and experienced talent base.

This could be done on a volunteer basis, but ideally, there would be way for people to be paid or to get equity. For this to happen, work permits and visas would have to be easier to get.  For instance, trailing spouses of resident permit holders in the UK can work, but those in Sweden and Germany generally cannot. 

Why not the introduction of a short-term working visa in the EEA that specifically allows trailing spouses to work for web startups?

A website could be set up where expat spouses, stay-at-home parents and others can register to contribute their time and knowledge in different areas of web startups, from ideation to testing to market research to financial analysis, etc. 

Contributors can log in and work on their own time, but there can also be online meetings for brainstorms and check-ins. A toolkit could be provided to e ncourage the set-up of satellite, in-person meet-ups in expat communities.

I'm thinking in particular of cities like Zurich, Munich and London where many multi-national companies and consultancies are based, and there's a sizable expat population. In Munich, for instance, there were so many expat spouses, we had a social group for "accidental hausfrauen" -- accidental housewives!  However, this set-up would also benefit people in more isolated locations, like those who have been deployed with military or diplomatic personnel.

... Updated 6 May to include scenarios ...


Types of individuals who could benefit from a temporary work permit and/or visa for working with startups:

  • Trailing spouses who have taken a break or left their own careers to follow their partner's job to another country

  • Partners who have taken a break from their careers to raise or care for families

  • Partners of military or diplomatic personnel who may get assigned to remote locations

  • Partners of academics who have moved for a fellowship, teaching assignment or other temporary situation (thank you, Paul Reader, for mentioning this group)

  • Additional non-partner category for consideration: Individuals with special skills who would like to work with EEA startups


  • Startups who need temporary or at least not full-time people with training, experience, and skills

  • Tech companies, including startups, who need skilled workers for maternity or paternity cover  (thank you, Christine, for this point)

  • Multi-nationals and academic institutions trying to convince workers to move overseas, who would have an attractive option to offer their trailing partners

  • "Native" job seekers, If the work permit/visa holder is permitted to be an entrepreneur themselves (thanks, Christine, again)

  • suggestions for others?

Highlighting differences between residency permits/visas and work permits

Categories of individuals' visa and work permit statuses:

Already in the country, with a residence permit/visa tied to the partner's residence permit/visa

  • Those who are by default allowed to work (in which case the website/network/community provides a way to connect them with companies looking for skilled workers)

  • Those who can only work if they get their own work permits sponsored by a company

  • Those who are not permitted to work currently

Currently out of the country, in the process of applying as a dependent for a residency permit tied to the spouse's residency/work permit

  • same three scenarios as above

Expanding the concept from trailing spouses to other individuals:

- People who are entitled to come to the UK or an EU country on working holidays, like Australians (in which case the website/network/community provides a way to connect them with companies looking for skilled workers)

- People who are entitled to come to the UK or an EU country on tourist visas, like Americans, but who have in-demand skills that web startups could use

- People who have ideas or skills to contribute to web startups. This scenario has to be fleshed out, but similar to the UK's investor or entrepreneur categories but with lower thresholds and shorter time limits.

How will your concept support web entrepreneurship?

Web entrepreneurs benefit from the input and contributions of educated, experienced and talented people from around the world. Startups generally don't have the resources to hire, for instance, a dedicated marketing or user testing person, and in many cases don't need a full-time person for the role. However, for quality work in areas like strategic marketing, graphic design, copyright legalities, etc. an intern isn't going to cut it. People who have stepped away from their careers, either to follow their spouses' jobs to another country or to raise a family, still want to contribute to and do meaningful work. By working with web startups through this online platform, they can keep their CVs current, keep up to date with technology and business developments, and explore new career directions.

What kinds of resources will be needed to get this concept off the ground and scale it?

Policy changes to make it easier for expat spouses to work. A short-term or long-term working visa in the EEA that specifically allows trailing spouses to work for web startups. A website where web startups can upload their projects and specific needs. Other people can then register to view, comment and sign up to work on projects and tasks. A toolkit for setting up in-person meetups and working sessions in the expat communities.

How could we get started?

Research current policies for trailing spouse work permits across the EEA zone. Explore how expats are or are not able to freelance now. How would payment be done? Directly by a startup or through a central agency? Let's prototype a website! Start a group on LinkedIn to get discussion started and gauge interest. Put a call out on expat sites.

Virtual Team:

Christine Becksted, Paul Reader


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Photo of Nathan Maton

It is awesome to hear about real obvious problems I had never considered. Great entry!

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