Moving in the right direction - business travel to and from the EU in a post-Brexit world

Published: November 2nd, 2022

7 min read

Following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, freedom of movement to the European Union (EU), EU directives and regulations no longer apply to UK citizens and service providers.

Many businesses are seeing the impact of these changes in practice and many clients are asking what this means for business travel into the UK and into the EU.

EEA employees travelling to the UK

The standard visitor visa (business) is quite a restrictive visa. Visitors can only remain in the UK for a maximum of 6 months and can only carry out "Permitted Activities".

if you enter the UK on a standard visitor visa (business) you cannot switch into any other visa category while you are in the UK.

This is not a definitive list and applicants are advised to take legal advice about whether their activities in the UK will amount to "Permitted Activities".

UK employees travelling to the EEA

If a British citizen is travelling to an EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein for less than 90 days in a 180-day period, they may be able to do some things without getting a visa or work permit.

What counts as "business activities" rather than work is left up to each member state to decide but generally business travel activities include activities such as attending meetings or discussions, attending seminars or conferences or meeting clients and customers.

By way of example of the differences between member states, in Germany you are able to negotiate deals or contracts and speak/ present at a conference (so long as you are not being paid) but in Spain, these may not be classified as permitted activities.

Can EEA manufacturers come to the UK to assemble and install products?

Before Brexit, European workers could freely come to the UK for an unlimited amount of time and install highly specialised/ technical products without worrying about immigration issues.

Things are now different and European workers can only come to the UK as visitors for a maximum of 180 days per year.

Under the current immigration rules, employee of an overseas company may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise if said company is the manufacturer or supplier of a UK company or if it is part of a contractual arrangement for after sales services agreed at the time of the sale. Therefore, subcontractors are also now permitted.

Despite the above, the issue of duration still stands as visitors are only permitted to stay in the UK for a maximum of 180 days per year. This length of time may not be appropriate in all circumstances for long term or complex projects.

Unfortunately, their stay as 'visitors' cannot be extended so therefore, if overseas workers were to stay in the UK for more than 180 days, it would be necessary to go through a sponsorship process and they would become UK tax residents. Where sponsorship is not possible, an alternative option could be to consider rotating workers or training local staff who can work on the product/ machinery.

We have worked with a number of clients providing advice on business travel requirements for employees travelling to the EU and also for EEA employees coming to the UK. It is important to keep up to date with the requirements and plan ahead of employees travelling to or from the EU to the UK to ensure that they are complying with immigration rules and will not be stopped at the border.

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