The UK and it has a trade deal but what does that deal mean for business travel? It's a question many employers are now grappling with, employers with staff based in the UK but who travel regularly to EU countries to work, and likewise those based there and visiting the UK. The immigration rules have changed significantly, it's complicated and the consequences of getting it wrong are potentially expensive, as we'll see. The government's website helps to a point. The section 'Visit Europe from 1 January 2021' sets out the extra requirements for business on top of the steps all travellers have to take, and it tries to explain the type of work that qualifies as a “business visit” without the need for a visa as well dealing with the visas themselves, where needed, and the complex requirements around the type of work provided by the individual and the qualifications they need to have. There is also the other side of the coin, workers based in Europe but visiting the UK. So as you expect it is a busy time for our immigration team helping clients through this maze. To help understand the key points I called head of the team, Jo Hennessy, who is based in Glasgow:
Jo Hennessy: “From a UK perspective, that trade agreement doesn't hugely impact or change the previous immigration routes that we had. The key issue, obviously, is that the Europeans coming to UK for the first time from this year onwards will have to consider well do we need immigration permission, and if so, what immigration route is appropriate for us? The agreement itself doesn't mean that Europeans, and similarly Brits going to Europe, can all just carry out economic activities covered by the trade agreement without having to get a visa so I think the key message coming from it as the need to be really careful whether people are coming to the UK or whether people are going from the UK to Europe, to just pause first and consider how long they're going for, what activities are they carrying out, and therefore is that something that they're permitted to do without getting a visa in advance as a visitor, or as it's something which actually requires appropriate immigration permission, so a visa and, if so, which route would be the most appropriate one for them to follow? So business visitors, for example, can come to the UK for up to six months but they don't have complete free rein to just carry out any activities that they want. The rules have been slightly tinkered with and amended by the UK to accommodate the trade agreement but there hasn't been a massive overhaul. There are some specific tweaks that have been made to cater for contractual service suppliers and independent professionals to come in under a specific international agreement visa route and where that is applicable for those people, that is a slight expansion and what we had but it is very specific in terms of the eligibility criteria, certain sectors are excluded, so it won't be one that's for all. So I think the key thing is to really think what routes appropriate, what restrictions will they face when they're travelling, and do that in advance, and from a European perspective there are various derogations within the trade agreement itself, so it's not a uniform approach. So it will be very much Member State by Member State. If UK employers are sending Brits to Europe, thinking where are they going and what are the rules in that particular Member State because it's not necessarily the same everywhere in terms of what's permitted and what isn't."
Joe Glavina: "The government's advice talks about getting of the pattern of work carried out in 2020, if there is one. What's that about?
Jo Hennessy: "Yes, so it's just there's a distinction between people who have maybe had a pattern of travel between the UK and Europe in 2020, or have been residing in the UK in 2020, then they could arguably fall within the withdrawal agreement and they may have other options to preserve their long term rights to come to the UK such as the EU settlement scheme or getting a frontier worker permit which would avoid that need to get a visa or to face challenge, are you working in the UK, for example, does that exceed what they are allowed to do, they would be covered and have peace of mind. For those coming from 2020 it is again, as I said, looking at the activities that they are carrying out, what routes are most appropriate, do they need a visa in advance, what's the process for applying for that and with they, and those activities, be eligible at all, and if they are eligible then really considering the process and the timescales involved in that. Does that affect commercially? So do you have time to go through that application process? Certainly from a UK perspective, the costs do rack up fairly quickly if you're looking at getting somebody a sponsored work visa and depending upon how long somebody is needed in that jurisdiction, or the activities that are required, the employer might take the view well actually that just doesn't make commercial business sense for us to invest that level for this very short trip, or those particular activities, maybe they can do it remotely, maybe we can get somebody who doesn't need that permission, so a European national, for example, or British National depending on where they are, who could carry out those particular activities for them. So it is just important to consider exactly what they're doing and which route that would fall within to be permitted and being really careful. Also in the UK, and in these Member States, to be mindful of the rules and not to be breaching them because the repercussions of breaching these rules can be really quite significant and result in illegal working penalties both for the employer and for the individual themselves and cause longer term problems when trying to travel between these jurisdictions in the future."
Joe Glavina: "So what are your top tips for employers who are planning business travel, Jo?"
Jo Hennessy: "I think the top tips coming from this would be for businesses to sit back and look and ask are there particular jurisdictions that we routinely have our workers travelling to on a commuter or longer term basis? Make sure that the business and the managers in question are familiar with the rules on the ground there and what they can and can't do, how long they can do it for, and that the employees themselves are aware. This is quite a new mind set for people to get used to. Europeans and Brits have had years of free movement between their countries and it's quite a change to now be subject to restrictions and potentially requiring permission, or being challenged by immigration officers on arrival to make sure that that's being done properly. So I think understanding the rules in the key countries in question, having those identified in advance and making sure people are informed and aware and informed of that, and acting early. So business travel generally will require much more advanced planning than we've needed in the past across the UK and Europe. They need to factor in time scales to be comfortable that the route is the right one and if an application is needed, to let that go through and be processed. Certainly from a UK perspective, those applications are not instantaneous, they can take quite some time to be processed and approved and that would need to be built into travel plans."
Jo offers plenty more advice and guidance in various articles which you can find on the Outlaw website. If you've got staff who are home-working then you may be keen to read her recent article on that subject. There are a number of immigration hurdles which arise in that situation and she covers those in some detail.