The UK has left the EU and it has a trade deal but what does that deal mean for business travel to the UK? It's a question many employers are now grappling with given that the immigration rules have changed, it's complicated and the consequences of getting it wrong are potentially expensive. From a UK perspective the trade agreement doesn't hugely impact or change the previous immigration routes that we had. The key issue is that the Europeans coming to UK for the first time will have to consider whether they need immigration permission, and if so, what's the appropriate immigration route for them. The government advice on this is plentiful, though it's not an easy read. The key message is really all about forward planning, understanding what the business traveller will actually be doing when they get to the UK and whether that work falls within the permissible activities under the business visitor rules. So let's hear more about that and the advice we are currently giving on this subject. Louisa Cole is an immigration specialist and she joined me by video-link from London:
Louisa Cole: “So the UK's exit from the EU and the end of the transition period on the 31st of December 2020 has opened up a number of different immigration challenges for employers, particularly those with globally mobile workforces and business visitors is probably coming up at the top of that list right and we are receiving a lot of questions from clients in that area. Business visitors have always represented a sort of difficult group to manage for businesses because there are various different restrictions on the activities that they can do whilst in the UK and there are various activities that are permitted. Now the immigration will say that business visitors can't undertake productive work in the UK and obviously, quite often, there are different interpretations of what would be considered work and what wouldn't and employers really need to be looking carefully at the activities that an employee is going to be undertaking on a business visit to the UK in advance of their travel so they can really make that assessment as to whether or not they fall into the business visitor category and the activities they're undertaking in the UK are permissible activities under the immigration rules, or whether what the employee is actually going to be doing in the UK is more substantive and is going to fall into the productive work sphere. So forward planning is absolutely essential. Other things that employers really need to be thinking about are duration of trips and frequency of trips. Business visitors are a group that often face quite a lot of questioning at the border and now EU nationals are being grouped in with non-EU nationals in terms of being subject to a new set of rules and employers are really having to think about these rules in respect of a broader sort of spectrum of individuals when they're travelling globally. So EU nationals entering the UK will now be obviously subject to the same requirements as non-EU nationals, they will need to be mindful of the frequency of their trips to the UK, so business visitors can usually travel to the UK for up to six months any 12 month period, but they should be aware, as they must always have been aware, the more trips that someone undertakes to the UK in a period of time, potentially of that six month period of time, the more likely they are to get questioned at the border. Pay is another thing that is important and needs to be considered in advance of business travellers taking on their trips. So there are various different restrictions around pay in the immigration rules and I'm not going to go into those today, but usually payment from the UK entity is prohibited, bar very few exceptions. So again, that's something that employers need to think about, and often take legal advice on in advance of the employee travelling to the UK for business purposes."
Joe Glavina: "I imagine, Louisa, that as well as the complications of Brexit, COVID-19 must have had a serious impact on business travellers?"
Louisa Cole: "So COVID has just added an extra layer of considerations for employers really. So in advance of travel employers are now needing to look at what are the exit requirements for certain locations. So those are always changing as a result of COVID. Perhaps there's a quarantine period required in the UK, as we're seeing at the moment, as well as various COVID tests that are required in advance of travel, and then upon arrival in the UK. So at the moment, it wouldn't be uncommon to see an employee being required to take a test within three days in advance of their travel, come to the UK, quarantine for 10 days and then take two tests during that period and all of that needs to be planned in advance of the travel taking place. So employers really need to make sure that they're on the front foot in terms of business travel, even at a time when travel is incredibly difficult. Make sure they plan in advance, make sure that they are obtaining advice in relation to what the quarantine requirements are because the fines can be, you know, quite significant in this area, as well as reputational risk and lots of other factors that come into play. So COVID has sort of played an impact. Also, if you've got someone in quarantine in the UK, something you might want to think about is, you know, how valuable that trip's actually going to be right now because the individual travelling to the UK for a business trip might spend a large proportion of the time they're coming to the UK for in quarantine".
Joe Glavina: "Last question Louisa. What would be your key message to HR on this? The most important point to take away?
Louisa Cole: "I would say the forward planning element really does play a huge part, as well as prior discussions with the business traveller. So it's really important that employers are having that conversation in advance of the business traveller coming to the UK, discussing what they're going to be doing when they arrive and really thinking about whether or not those activities fall within to the permissible activities under the business visitor rules. Often you'll see individuals coming to the UK as a business traveller, they get questioned at the border, and they might have a misunderstanding of the activities they're going to be doing upon arrival or they describe those activities incorrectly, perhaps and that then leads to more questioning and perhaps it sounds like they're going to the UK to undertake productive work, and then they'll have issues at the border. So I think those initial conversations within the business, a full awareness of all parties involved, the employer, the employee and the business that's being visited in the UK, in terms of what the business traveller is going to be doing, and when, how long for, where they're being paid, how long they quarantining for etcetera. I think those are the really the key conversations that need to be happening several weeks, if not months, in advance of travel, if possible."
The immigration team has covered this subject in some detail, along with a host of other Brexit-related issues which they have covered in numerous articles and guides. You can find all of those on the Outlaw website along with the very latest developments.