Employers with UK-based staff who regularly travel to EU nations for work, and vice versa, should consider whether visas are needed or whether the trip qualifies for a visa-exempt business visit, an immigration law expert has said.
On a recent webinar detailing the outcomes of the UK-EU trade deal and their impact on business, Audrey Elliott, a partner in the employment team at Eversheds Sutherland, said there were several changes in the trade agreement that could affect workers who regularly travel between the UK and EU nations.
For example, the type of work that qualifies as a “business visit” without the need for a visa has been broadened to include market research; while the Temporary Worker – International Agreement Worker Visa, which covers work in the UK covered by international law or treaty, has been expanded to include contractors and independent professionals.
However, the International Agreement Worker visa route should be used with caution, suggested Elliott. “It’s quite a complex route and comes with a lot of requirements around the type of work provided and also the qualifications of the contractor,” she said.
Elliott also reminded employers about the rights given to EU nationals working in the UK and vice versa under the withdrawal agreement, which came into force on 1 February 2020. The agreement gave protections to business travellers or migrant workers who had “got their foot in the door” before the end of 2020 and had established a “pattern” work in and EU member state, or the UK if they are an EU resident, that would allow them to qualify for visa exemptions post-Brexit.
She advised employers to get evidence of the pattern of work carried out across borders, or evidence of UK residence for EU nationals.
Where a pattern of regular business travel between the UK and the EU was not established in 2020, Elliott said employers must ask three questions:
- Does the worker need a visa to do the activities they need to do in the UK or Europe? In many cases, said Elliott, business travel can go ahead without a work visa and eligibility for this this can be checked on gov.uk
- If their activities fall outside of the remit of a visitor, is there a work visa route open to the individual? “Sometimes there is no suitable route because of salary and qualification requirements,” said Elliott
- Is the visa route open to an employee “palatable” to the employer? Visa applications are often time-intensive and costly, so the employer should think about whether the work activity is something they want to press ahead with, she said.
Finally, Elliott shared her top tips for planning business travel to the EU post-Brexit:
- Create internal awareness of the new immigration rules and visa requirements
- Appoint internal business travel and immigration “champions”
- Consider giving jobs that require a significant amount of travel across EU countries to EU nationals, or UK nationals with residency in the EU
- Become familiar with overseas immigration regimes.