15 Dec 2020

The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 and the introduction of the new Points Based System brings with it questions regarding business visits to the UK.

Those arriving in the UK as visitors are only permitted to undertake a limited number of activities. Anything which can be defined as or includes working, being employed, running a business or providing goods and services (this is a non-exhaustive list) in the UK is prohibited for visitors. Although business meetings are permitted, other activities may require the individual to obtain a pre-authorised work visa enabling them to conduct the activity in question in the UK. Further, unless it is the Permitted Paid Engagement visa (defined in the rules) or it is a permitted category, visitors are also not allowed to be paid in the UK.

Given the increased Home Office costs and administrative burden linked to obtaining work visas, businesses and travellers may mistakenly conclude that entering the UK as a visitor would be more cost efficient than obtaining work authorisation. This, coupled with the fact that EEA nationals along with nationals of a limited number of other countries are allowed to use e-gates on arrival at port, may further instil an erroneous belief in visitors that pre-authorised permission to work in the UK is not required.

There are however significant risks linked to entering the UK as a visitor without seeking legal advice whether the activities intended are permitted.  If, upon questioning, Border Force officials determine that the purpose of the visit is not permitted under the visitor rules, the individual may be denied entry to the UK, turned back (often after a lengthy wait) and, in extreme cases, could be banned from entering the UK for up to 10 years.  Aside from the difficulties at that point, being denied entry to the UK carries severe repercussions for any future travel to the UK and future UK visa applications.  A subsequent visit is likely to require a visit visa application before the intended travel to ensure entry upon arrival.

This compliance and eligibility assessment is conducted at each visit and those who visit, irrespective of the length or frequency of their visits, must adhere to these requirements at each visit. Visitors must also ensure that their passports are valid for the duration of their trip to the UK and consider whether space in their passport is required for an entry stamp.

There are other possible problems: those who do obtain the appropriate work permission prior to their travel to the UK will also need to consider other issues. One example is that a visa must be activated upon arrival to the UK. This means that those who arrive before the start date of their visa by using e-gates will not have activated their visa and may therefore be working without permission. This would require them to travel outside the UK and return on or after the start date of their visa.

Businesses which are registered with the Home Office as trusted sponsors must be extra careful when hosting visitors, as any breach of visit rules can impact their licence and ability to sponsor workers from outside the UK.  It’s vital to remember that any business (sponsor or not) is at risk of a civil penalty of up to £20,000 if found to be employing someone without proper work authorisation.  With illegal working carrying substantial financial, criminal, administrative and reputational risks, it is essential that businesses and visitors seek advice on the purpose of their visit to the UK to ensure that they are compliant with the Home Office requirements at all times. Although business executives and visitors will largely be able to travel without hinderance, issues can arise out of ignorance of the law or lack of information. In our experience a comfort letter detailing the purpose of the trip and confirming its authorisation under the visitor rules helps to avoid any unforeseen difficulties.

These requirements already apply to non-EEA nationals, and will apply to EEA nationals when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.


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