Overhaul of UK visitor rules set for April after major consultation

11 Mar 15

UNITED KINGDOM

IMPACT – HIGH

What is the change? Under new rules going into force in April, the Home Office will consolidate the visitor visa category into four routes – visit (standard), marriage/civil partnership visit, permitted paid engagements visit, and transit visit – in a bid to make the rules more readily understood. Business visitors may enter as “standard visitors” – they will be allowed to undertake a limited and express number of “permitted activities”– but may not take employment, work or provide services in the U.K. Entry as a visitor will still only be for a maximum period of six months in any 12-month period. All visitors to the U.K., including visa-waived business travelers (such as U.S. citizens) will be assessed on whether their intent to visit is “genuine” and not merely a means to work in the U.K. on a short-term basis (which requires work authorization).

What does the change mean? The “genuine intent” test provides fresh grounds for either a U.K. visa officer, whether at the consulate deciding a visa application or at the airport, to deny entry to a foreign national whom they believe intends to violate terms of the visitor status by performing work activities in the U.K.

  • Implementation timeframe: April 24.
  • Visas/permits affected: Visitors.
  • Who is affected: Foreign nationals on business visitor visas, and visa-waived business travelers.
  • Business impact: Business travelers should make sure their activities are within the permitted scope of business visits and do not entail employment or work.
  • Next steps: Foreign nationals applying for visas before travel will be subject to the genuineness test when applying for their visas. Visa-waived nationals may be assessed on their genuineness at the border.

Background: The statement of changes reduces the number of visitor categories and clarifies the permitted activities for each category. Under a new prerequisite, visitors must satisfy the decision-maker that they have a “genuine intention to visit,” which includes a determination that they are entering for one of the listed purposes and will not undertake prohibited work activities. Visitors are prohibited from taking employment or conducting work that amounts to filling a role or providing short-term cover within a U.K.-based organization. They must remain paid and employed outside the U.K., except under very specific circumstances.

A business visitor may:

  1. Attend meetings, conferences, seminars, and interviews.
  2. Give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches so long as they are not commercial events or profit-making.
  3. Negotiate and sign contracts and deals.
  4. Attend trade fairs for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling.
  5. Perform site visits and inspections.
  6. Gather information for their overseas employer.
  7. Receive briefings on U.K.-based customers, so long as all work for the customer is done outside the U.K.

A business visitor who is an employee of an overseas company may conduct the following intra-corporate activities on a specific internal project with U.K. employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients:

  1. Advise and consult.
  2. Troubleshoot.
  3. Provide training.
  4. Share skills and knowledge.

A business visitor who is an internal auditor may carry out regulatory or financial audits at a U.K. branch of the same group of companies as the visitor’s overseas employer.

An employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment, computer software or hardware.

In a separate category, clients of U.K. export companies may be seconded to the U.K. company to oversee the requirements for goods and services that are being provided under contract by the U.K. company or its subsidiary company, provided the two companies are not part of the same group. In exceptional cases, employees may make multiple visits to cover the duration of the contract.

Several other business categories have been delineated, listing their permitted activities. These categories include: Study, Work-related Training, Science/Research/Academic, Legal, Religious, Artistic, Sport, Entrepreneur and Medical-treatment visitors.

BAL Analysis: The rules place greater scrutiny on the requirement to seek work authorization, typically under Tier 2, either in the context of a full-time assignment or on a multiple-entry basis. Business travelers, especially visa-waived nationals who are accustomed to entering the U.K. without a visa without incident, should beware that an enhanced focus on this area is the clear intention of U.K. policymakers. The risk in entering the U.K. improperly as a visitor and without work authorization ranges from delay and inconvenience at the airport to a possible 10-year travel ban where entry is deemed to have been sought by deception. The risk to a company in allowing employees to enter incorrectly as visitors are fees of up to £20,000 per undocumented migrant, plus loss of access to sponsor management systems to support other Tier 2 employees.

Business travelers should make sure their activities do not encompass prohibited work activities. The “genuine intent” test provides additional grounds for a border official to turn away visa-waived nationals at the border. Companies may wish to contact their BAL representative for a complete list of enumerated business activities for each category of business travel.

More positively, we welcome the fact that standard visitors may now enter to conduct leisure or personal activities along with business activities on the same trip, giving a legal basis for what has long been assumed to be the position.

BAL’s U.K. office will hold a webinar on the visitor topic, as well as other reforms to the U.K. immigration system announced in the recent Statement of Changes, and will circulate invitations and an “executive summary” to clients shortly. Please contact your BAL representative for more information.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@balglobal.com.

Copyright © 2016 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact copyright@balglobal.com.