Out-Law News 2 min. read

UK immigration update develops rules for business visitors

A recent change to the UK immigration rules provides “interesting developments” for business visitors, an expert has said.

The immigration rule update (47 pages/424 KB) offers greater flexibility to business visitors, including the explicit inclusion of remote working as a general business activity. Considering the latest update, corporate immigration expert Shara Pledger of Pinsent Masons said the changes will appear “quite minor” but will in fact have a significant impact on those to whom they apply.

The changes follow an announcement from home secretary James Cleverly, with plans to increase minimum income requirements for all sponsored migrant workers and restrict visa holders’ ability to bring dependents to the UK, expected to have “a significant impact for both personal and business migration”, Pledger said.

The latest update sets out new permissions allowing employees of overseas businesses to carry out outward-facing UK-based client activities. This includes the ability to give advice and consult, perform troubleshooting, provide training, and share knowledge and skills. There are caveats to this, however, including a requirement for contact carrying out any of these activities to be incidental to the individual’s employment abroad. Additionally, the purpose of an overseas business visitor’s UK activities must be to achieve delivery of a project or service by the UK branch of the visitor’s overseas employer.

The purpose requirement “seems to limit the new permissions severely”, Pledger said, adding: “It’s frustrating not to see the business visitor rules go further, particularly given the proposed increase to sponsored worker salaries. Business visitors are generally neutral from a net migration perspective - because they enter and then leave the UK within short periods - so in theory there shouldn’t be much political opposition to developing the route further.”

The update also expands options for scientists, researchers and academics visiting the UK, widening permissions to act under overseas employment or independently. These visitors, visiting the UK for six months or less, will now be able to do slightly more, including taking part in formal exchange arrangements with UK counterparts. The update also permits visitors to collaborate, gather information and facts and conduct research during their time in the UK.

This change will benefit the UK’s higher education sector, allowing academics to visit and carry out research at UK universities more easily. However, Pledger said that UK institutions should “remain mindful of their obligations for hosting visitors”, paying attention to situations where the Academic Technology Approval Scheme applies. This includes where an applicant is in the process of applying for asylum or in other limited visa situations.

The new rules also “end segregation” for permitted paid engagements – a limited number of activities for which visitors can receive payment to perform in the UK. They allow businesses to pay people such as entertainers or professional sportspeople visiting the UK. This has now been broadened to allow “a speaker coming to the UK to give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches, where they have been invited to a conference or other event”.

Pledger added: “The addition of the ‘speaker’ permission will certainly be welcomed because it has been an omission in the visitor route for some time. The live music industry is not likely to be satisfied with the updates however and will continue to push for a simplified visa option for touring bands and artists looking to remain in the UK for longer than 30 days.”

The changes take effect on 31 January 2024. Any applications made prior to this date will be decided in accordance with the immigration rules in force on 30 January 2024.

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