In a welcome move, the UK Government has introduced several changes to the immigration rules for visitors which take effect on 31 January 2024. These changes will expand the range of permitted activities that business visitors can undertake in the UK.
Visitors to the UK cannot work or take employment in the UK, save in limited circumstances for permitted paid engagements. Any visitor can, however, undertake a limited range of business-related activities.
The changes are in keeping with policy commitments in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November 2023 which outlined the Government’s aims to “simplify and expand the UK’s business visitor visa [route]” so “businesses can access the talent they need”.
Businesses should be aware of these changes to ensure that they can make informed decisions when planning business trips to the UK.
Expansion of permitted Intra-corporate Activities
Visitors employed abroad who visit a branch of a multi-national business in the UK (within the same corporate group) are currently allowed to carry out the following activities but only internally with UK employees of the same corporate group.
- Advise and consult,
- Prove training, and
- Share skills and knowledge.
There is currently a blanket restriction ban on client-facing work.
However, from 31 January such visitors will be able to undertake these activities directly with clients, provided that the service is being provided by the UK branch of the visitor’s employer (ie not for the business abroad) and that any client-facing work is incidental to the visitor’s employment abroad. This is a pragmatic change that UK businesses will welcome.
Wider Coverage for Legal Sector
Currently, overseas lawyers are only permitted to advise a UK-based client on specific international litigation and / or on an international transaction. Following the rule changes, the list of permitted activities will significantly expand so that an overseas lawyer can provide the following services:
- 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 restriction preventing provision of services to non-UK-based clients has also been lifted.
Easing of restrictions on UK Remote working
The current Home Office guidance allows visitors to the UK to undertake a limited amount of remote work. Visitors can currently undertake activities relating to their employment overseas remotely while they are in the UK, “such as responding to emails or answering phone calls”. The changes to the rules now mean that visitors can “undertake activities relating to their employment overseas remotely from within the UK, providing this is not the primary purpose of the visit”.
Whilst this isn’t a “digital nomad” visa of any sort, the new rules do not restrict the types of work activities that can be conducted remotely. Of course, businesses and individuals should bear in mind that the visitor’s primary purpose should not be to work remotely from the UK. Anyone intending to mainly work from the UK should obtain the appropriate work permission to do so.
Scientists, researchers and academics will be allowed to conduct research in the UK as part of their visit, either for a specific project which directly relates to their employment overseas, or independently. This expands permitted activities for this cohort of visitors: currently academics can only conduct research for their own purposes and if they are on sabbatical leave from their home institution. In addition, scientists and researchers will be allowed to take part in formal exchange arrangements with their UK counterparts (currently only academics can do this).
Simplifying Permitted Paid Engagement visas
The Government is also making changes to the rules for permitted paid engagements. Currently, in order to do paid work in the UK as a visitor, it is necessary to obtain a Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) visa. The visa is for experts in their field coming to the UK to undertake specific paid engagements for up to one month. The visa is currently restricted to:
- Academics who are highly qualified within their field of expertise,
- Experts coming to give lectures in their subject area,
- Overseas designated pilot examiners,
- Qualified lawyers coming to provide advocacy for legal proceedings within the UK,
- Professional artists, entertainers, or musicians, and
- Professional Sportspersons.
In addition, the Home Office has added speaking at a conference to the list of permitted paid activities.
From 31 January 2024, the specific PPE visa will be abolished and absorbed into the Standard Visitor visa. Any permitted paid engagements will need to be completed within 30 days of the visitor’s entry to the UK, but we anticipate that PPE visitors will now be issued with a standard six month visit visa. They will still be required to arrange their engagement before they enter, declare this as part of any application / entry, and ensure this relates to their expertise / occupation overseas.
The changes should mean that the route is easier to access and will allow PPE visitors more flexibility to conduct other visit-related activities after the initial 30 days.
The practicalities of how this will work and how businesses will check that a visitor has permission under the PPE route remain unclear at this time. The guidance, which often contains more details on how the law is applied in practice, is awaited so we may see further details when this is published.
The Government hopes that these changes will make it easier to do business in the UK, while net migration levels remain unaffected. Further changes to the business visit category are expected over the course of 2024 as the current Government intends to “explore further improvements to the business visitor rules alongside the potential for further enhanced provisions linked to trade negotiations”.
As part of plans to digitise the UK’s borders by 2025, the UK has introduced an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme, a system of pre-travel immigration checks, which is being rolled out over the course of 2024. This will require visitors, including business visitors, to apply for an ETA (a digital permission) prior to arriving in the UK. You can read more about this here.
If you have any questions relating to these developments or would like assistance with planning your business visit strategy, please contact our Immigration Team.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, January 2024