Navigating the business visitor rules

With the free movement of people from Europe no longer possible following the end of the Brexit transition period, and with the sponsored worker routes expensive and time-consuming, European companies are looking at other routes to be able to send its employees to the UK to do business.

One of those routes is the Standard Visitor visa. Under this visa, overseas workers may visit the UK to do business activities for up to six months. They are not permitted to do paid or unpaid work, whether as an employee of a UK company or as a self-employed person, but may carry out a limited number of business activities permitted by the immigration rules.

General business activities that a visitor may do are:

  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews;
  • give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches (provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser);
  • negotiate and sign deals and contracts;
  • attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;
  • carry out site visits and inspections;
  • gather information for their employment overseas; and
  • be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.

Those employees who are part of a multi-national group of companies are able to visit its UK site to participate in internal projects – such as advising and consulting; trouble-shooting; providing training; and sharing skills and knowledge. No work may be carried out directly with clients.

Employees of foreign companies may receive training from a UK-based business in work practices and techniques which are required for their employment overseas, provided such training is not available in their home country.

It is also possible for an employee of a training company based overseas to visit the UK to deliver a short series of training to employees of a UK-based company as part of a global training programme, provided the UK-based company is part of a multi-national group of companies.

A foreign manufacturer or supplier may send its employees to the UK to install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment, computer software or hardware under a contract of purchase or supply or lease with a UK business.

An overseas worker cannot use the visitor rules to live in the UK for long periods so of time through frequent visits and cannot claim benefits while they are here.

As you can see, the visitor rules provide an alternative route into the country to do business with UK-based companies, but there are limitations to what an individual may do. This means that they are susceptible to questions as they go through border control. They do not have to apply for advance clearance before coming to the UK, but do need to be prepared to explain the reason for and length of their visit, and to provide such evidence as may be required to show that the activities they are here to do fall within the business visitor rules.