What is permitted under the visitor rules?
Imelda Reddington considers what business and business-related activities standard visitors can undertake under the visitor visa rules.
On 1 December 2020, the government published new guidance on the visitor rules. This sets out guidance for Home Office staff on applications for visas and permission for visitors to enter and stay in the UK.
In this article, we summarise the new guidance focusing specifically on what kind of business and business-related activities visitors are permitted to carry out in the UK as a visitor. Note that visitors can enter the UK by international agreement, admission at border without a physical visa but are they are still bound by the visitor rules.
Business activities will normally be linked to a visitor’s employment overseas and are mostly incidental to their employment. There is no restriction on a visitor remaining in contact with their employer and/or office during their visit to the UK.
General business activities
Visitors need to satisfy the decision-maker that they are not coming to the UK to make the UK their main place of work. Evidence may be provided in the form of a letter from their employer.
Visitors can undertake a range of activities such as attend meetings, conferences and seminars, give a one-off or short series of talks (provided it is not a commercial event and does not result in a profit for the organiser), negotiate and sign deals, attend trade fairs (provided the visitor does not directly sell) and carry out site visits.
Conferences and seminars will likely be focused on a specific topic or sector, but visitors can also attend familiarisation programmes to learn about a certain area of UK practice, such as law or finance. While there is no restriction on the length of a conference, they should not amount to work experience or recreational study for more than 30 days. The government suggests that a conference should last no more than a couple of weeks.
Visitors can also have general discussions to secure project funding, however from 1 December 2020 they cannot undertake these activities to switch into the Start-Up and Innovator routes.
Visitors can work remotely during their visit, including answering phone calls and responding to emails. However, they need to satisfy the decision-maker that the reason for their visit is to carry out a permitted activity and not primarily to work remotely from the UK.
If a visitor does intend to spend a large proportion of time in the UK and will do some remote working, they will also need to show that they are genuinely employed overseas and not seeking to work in the UK.
The government have clarified that any intra-corporate activities, where an employee of an overseas company visits the UK to advise and consult, trouble-shoot or provide training with UK employees of the same corporate group, should be short in duration and linked to a specific internal project, which does not require the visitor to work directly with clients.
The visitor should mainly be based at the company’s offices in the UK and not at client sites, except for meetings.
Manufacturing and supply of goods
Under this activity, employees of a foreign manufacturer can install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment where the manufacturer has a contract of purchase or supply or lease with a UK organisation.
In this scenario, visitors should stay for no longer than one month and while they may request to stay longer, they would need to satisfy the decision-maker that they are not fulfilling a role for the UK company.
Clients of UK export companies
Clients of UK export companies may second employees to the UK to oversee requirements for goods and services provided by the UK company under contract. Repeat visits are possible provided the contract between the companies is for more than 6 months and there should be a clear end date for the work.
Overseas roles requiring specific activities in the UK
Individuals employed overseas can also visit the UK to undertake specified activities related to their employment, including interpreters accompanying another visitor and drivers on an international route delivering or collecting goods or passengers. However, the visitor must continue to be employed and paid overseas.
Overseas employees can visit the UK to receive training in work practices only if such training is not available in their home country. Typically, this should be class-based, although practical training is permissible provided it does not amount to ‘training on the job’. Visitors whose training will last longer than one month will be scrutinised by the decision-maker to ensure that their activities do not amount to taking up employment in the UK.
If you have any questions about the contents of this article or if you need any assistance with the Visitor Visa route, please contact [email protected] in the immigration team at FSP.