When a visit of an overseas employee goes wrong - as published in Edge Magazine

4 mins

Posted on 03 Mar 2014

Owen Jones, Partner and Head of Business Immigration at Doyle Clayton , offers advice on how to make sure overseas employees of your company travel to the UK on an appropriate business visa

Many international businesses of all sizes have their offices in Britain, and their overseas employees often visit the UK for business. However, many employers aren’t aware that their overseas staff must enter the UK with the appropriate visa otherwise they will face serious consequences.

It frequently happens that an employee travels to the UK for a meeting with colleagues to work on an important deal, or perhaps they are in the UK on holiday and wish to visit the UK office. It may seem like a completely harmless act but it is important to think carefully about what the reasons for the visit are. This is because there are only a limited number of ‘permissible activities’ allowed while in the UK on a visit visa.

For example, if an employee travels from the US for a one-off meeting with a colleague, advising on an important report, this will count as one of the permissible activities – but only if the meeting is arranged in advance. However complications can arise if employees find themselves working on the report. This is when someone would cross the line from conducting a permissible activity to being in breach of their visit visa. The margins are fine yet the consequences are serious.

The consequences

Getting it wrong could ultimately lead to an employee facing a UK re-entry ban of up to ten years, with the business risking a fine of £10,000 – which is due to increase to £20,000 in 2014. Furthermore, if the UK business holds a sponsor licence it would also risk the removal of that licence and the enforced repatriation of key migrant workers. If it doesn’t have a licence it would struggle to obtain one, given the negative immigration history that would attach to the business. As a result, the business may have real difficulty in ensuring that it can bring overseas workers into the UK in the future. Therefore it’s particularly important for international businesses to keep a clean immigration record since, once an error is made the effects will be long lasting.

The officers at the UK Border Control have become increasingly vigilant on this issue over recent years. The Home Office now questions visitors carefully, and conducts spot checks on businesses, which are sometimes based on tip-offs. The chances of being caught out are greater than ever.

The employers and employees’ responsibilities

Employees who find that their role has a global remit and requires them to travel internationally into the UK on a regular basis should aim to formalise the situation by arranging a multiple entry visa. Employees entering to work on a specific project should again make sure that they do not seek to arrive on the basis of a business visit but obtain a short-term permission to work.

HR departments of international companies should know the basics of immigration law and seek specialist advice if the situation is unclear. My advice is always that, if in doubt, get the appropriate working visa and avoid the potentially serious consequences. If your company is already a licensed sponsor, this will only take a week or so to arrange.

The Home Office is aware that the business visit rules have often been abused in the past. This resulted in increased scrutiny and questioning of many business people at Border Control in recent years, particularly those who are frequent visitors to the UK. 

Whilst the Home Office recognises that the business visit rules can be difficult to follow and that there are some grey areas, they regularly prevent business people from entering the UK.

While going through the process of getting the correct business visa can seem to be a bureaucratic hassle, these efforts can prevent significant future problems which can be very costly for international companies.

This article, written by Owen Jones, was originally published in Edge Magazine at  https://www.i-l-m.com/Insight/Edge/2014/February/approrpiate-business-visas

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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