Someone who visits the UK for business purposes is allowed to:
- Attend meetings;
- Negotiate and sign deals or contracts;
- Carry out site visits and inspections; and
- Be briefed on the requirements of a UK customer.
These activities are all subject to the condition that they do not displace UK workers or lead to the individual being employed in the UK. Business visitors also cannot be paid in the UK (other than reasonable expenses).
As an example of how the rules can operate, we were recently consulted by a business looking to bring their overseas agent to the UK for a short visit. The agent is a self employed contractor and is responsible for selling the client’s software in his home country. The UK business wanted him to come to the UK so they could discuss sales strategies for the year ahead and show him the latest version of the software. During his stay, the UK business would be responsible for his living costs but would not pay him a salary. This type of trip is allowed within the Immigration Rules.
If the individual coming to the UK was coming to meet with a potential customer this would also be permitted, but care would need to be taken to ensure they did not work for the customer while in the UK. As an example, if a software developer contracted to work on a particular project visits the UK they could meet with their client to discuss progress but should not actually carry out any software development while they are here. Instead, they would need to make notes of any issues identified by the client and wait until they left the UK to carry out the follow up work.
The position becomes more complicated when the visitor is part of the same corporate group. In that case, they are allowed slightly more flexibility and can be advising/consulting on particular internal projects. In our experience this is an area where many businesses are exposing themselves to risks because:
- The visitors are not restricted to internal projects, and instead meet with clients. This is only allowed if they do not carry out work for those clients in the UK, and we have seen cases where this distinction was not made clear.
- Some businesses use short term visitors to fill gaps in their UK workforce. For example, by bringing a developer from a connected company to work with the UK team while someone is on annual leave. This is not allowed.
- The visitor, and often their manager, are not fully aware of the visa restrictions and do not fully discuss these with HR. In these cases it is common to see a genuine visit grow into a role that is not permitted within the Immigration Rules.
With these risks in mind, we always recommend that our clients take the following steps before the start of any business visit:
- Hold internal discussions about what the individual will be doing in the UK. This will allow everyone to be clear on what is, and what isn’t, allowed during the visit; and
- Issue a formal letter or invitation to the individual coming to the UK. This should set out the agreed scope of work and outline the type of activities that will not be permitted. This should be issued to the individual but also given to their manager to avoid confusion.
We also recommend that someone is appointed internally, to monitor the progress of the visit and make sure that the agreed scope is being followed.
If you regularly use business visits, or you have plans to bring visitors from abroad, please get in touch to discuss how we can assist with the process.