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New visitor rules benefit business visitors to the UK

15 February 2024

Since 31 January 2024, the Immigration Rules for visitors have been liberalised to allow a wider range of activities for business visitors, including in the areas of intra-corporate activities, remote working, providing legal services and carrying out research. The Permitted Paid Engagement visitor route has been expanded and incorporated into the standard visitor route, meaning these visitors can stay for up to six months.

Provisions outlined in last December’s Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 246, now apply to visa nationals with visitor visa applications made on or after 31 January 2024, and to non-visa nationals entering the UK as a visitor on or after this date.

As confirmed in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, further enhancements to visitor provisions are due to be rolled out later in 2024 and beyond, in line with the terms of future international trade deals.

This article analyses the main developments most likely to be of interest to businesses. It does not cover the full requirements for entry as a visitor to the UK.

Expansion of allowed intra-corporate activities

Individuals employed abroad who visit a group business in the UK may now carry out the following activities directly with clients:

  • Advising and consulting;
  • Trouble-shooting;
  • Providing training; and
  • Sharing skills and knowledge.

The activities must be undertaken to deliver a project or service on behalf of the UK group business (not the business abroad), and must be incidental to the person’s employment abroad.

It is no longer necessary for intra-corporate activities to be limited to those that are for the benefit of the group the visitor is employed by.

Clarification of remote working policy for visitors

The Rules have been updated to confirm that visitors are allowed to ‘undertake activities relating to their employment overseas remotely from within the UK, providing this is not the primary purpose of their visit’.

When interpreting this Rule, it is important to understand that for UK immigration purposes, ‘employment’ is defined as including:

  • Paid and unpaid employment;
  • Paid and unpaid work placements as part of a course or period of study;
  • Self-employment; and
  • Engaging in business or any professional activity.

Although the new Rule contains no restriction on the range of work activities that may be carried out remotely in the UK as part of overseas employment (as defined under the Rules), visitors should note the following:

  • The requirement not to make remote working the primary purpose of a visitor stay acts as a significant restriction in comparison to the digital nomad schemes offered by other countries – although nothing has been announced to-date, it may be that the UK considers launching a digital nomad visa in the future to be more competitive;
  • Unless a specific exception applies, visitors cannot be employed in the UK (as defined in the Rules) – this can prevent businesspeople and the self-employed from working for UK-based clients (as opposed to clients based outside the UK) while they are physically in the UK; and
  • Unless a specific exception applies, visitors must not receive payment from a UK source for any of their activities carried out in the UK.

Following the update to the Rules, the visit guidance for Home Office officials now refers to visitors being able to participate in remote meetings in addition to responding to emails and answering phone calls.

The guidance also now lists the following factors that officials should consider when assessing whether remote work is the primary purpose of a visit (and whether the broader visitor requirements are met):

  • Whether the proposed length of stay would be financially viable without remote working on an ongoing basis;
  • The length of stay itself – a stay of more than one month will attract close scrutiny and remote work activities lasting more than 90 days may lead officials to ask questions about the nature of the remote work (to check it does not breach employment and payment restrictions);
  • If a visitor is in the UK for permitted business activities – officials may check that these do not amount to being seconded to a UK company/organisation, or to the UK branch of their overseas employer;
  • If a visitor will spend a large proportion of their time in the UK and claims to be doing some remote working – officials should check they are genuinely employed abroad rather than intending to work in the UK; and
  • Whether there are any concerns about the visitor intending to live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits.

The bottom line here is that care should still be exercised when considering working remotely in the UK as a visitor.

Greater scope for providing legal services

The expanded activities allowed under the amended Rules are as follows:

  • Advice;
  • Appearing in arbitrations;
  • Acting as an arbitrator/mediator;
  • Acting as an expert witness;
  • Appearing in court in jurisdictions which allow short-term call or where qualified in that jurisdiction;
  • Conferences, teaching;
  • Providing advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing;
  • Litigation; and
  • Transactional legal services, including drafting contracts.

The requirement for legal services to be for a UK-based client has been dropped. This amendment recognises the complexity of the client parties and practices often involved in legal work.

Although the range of activities allowed seems extensive, those coming to the UK to provide legal services should be aware that the permitted activities must also meet the general requirements for standard visitors, including being a genuine visitor, not carrying out prohibited activities and complying with restrictions on receiving payment from a UK source.

What this means is that an assessment needs to be made on a case-by-case basis on whether a person providing legal services may do so under the permitted activities above, or whether the requirements for permitted paid engagement may need to be met in addition. It also remains the case that if the visitor requirements are not fully met, alternative immigration permission may be required, for example under the Skilled Worker or Law Society Government Authorised Exchange routes.

Project-based research

Academics, scientists, and researchers are now allowed to carry out research in the UK as a visitor, provided this is for a specific project directly relating to their employment abroad. Prior to the changes, research was restricted to independent research and research for an academic’s own purposes while they are on a sabbatical from their home institution.

Restructuring and expansion of permitted paid engagements

Being a speaker at a conference has been added as a permitted paid engagement (PPE).

The route has also been absorbed into the standard visitor route, meaning that individuals who need to come to the UK for PPE purposes may enter the UK for six months instead of one.

Standard vistors intending to carry out a PPE must:

  • Receive an invitation for their engagement from an inviting organisation listed in the Rules, before they arrive in the UK;
  • Be over the age of 18 on the date they arrive in the UK; and
  • Complete the within 30 days of their arrival.

Logistically, this change has the benefit of enabling non-visa national PPE visitors to use an eGate on arrival rather than having to be stamped in for one month by a Border Force official. It also avoids the possibility of being incorrectly landed as a standard visitor, without the relevant permission to complete the planned engagement.

PPE visitors were previously not allowed to study in the UK. As standard visitors, they may now attend a recreational course for up to 30 days. They may also study or carry out research or research tuition for up to six months with an accredited institution, provided additional criteria for the course or research are also met.

Although the new arrangements for PPE seem straightforward at first glance, visitors using them will need to take care to ensure their entry is timed correctly to enable them to complete the engagement within 30 days. They also should also not accept and carry out further PPEs during the same visit – a fresh entry (and visa, for visa nationals without a long validity-visitor visa) would be required for this.

On a separate but related point, there are no changes for non-visa nationals who use the Creative Worker visa concession – they must still see a Border Force official on arrival and be stamped in for up to three months.

Upcoming change of visit arrangements for nationals of Gulf states and Jordan

Currently citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE must apply for an Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) before travelling to the UK. Citizens of Jordan must obtain a visa before travel.

The EVW scheme will end from 22 February 2024, as well as the visa requirement for citizens of Jordan.

Citizens of the above countries intending to enter the UK as a visitor from 22 February 2024 will instead be required to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). This change will be welcomed as the fee for an ETA is £10 for two years, or the expiry of the person’s passport (if earlier). This is significantly lower than the EVW fee of £30 per entry and the visitor visa fees, which are between £115 for a six-month visa and £963 for a ten-year long-term visa.

If you have any queries relating to these changes, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.

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