Short-term business travellers present an immigration risk

Whilst the risks of hiring people without permission to work are obvious ones, this same assessment process can often be missed with travellers staying in the UK for shorter periods of time. A typical scenario for these types of businesses may involve a colleague from abroad needing to attend a critical client meeting in the UK in four weeks’ time. The person attending is needed on time and will need a visa to come.

Moore Blatch immigration specialist, Simon Kenny comments: “Many UK companies are failing to realise that in these types of circumstances, it is the UK company that still bears the legal risk of any wrong decision being made about immigration compliance.”

Currently business visitors in the UK can come for up to six months at a time, but many require a visa in advance of travel. Work in the UK, either paid or unpaid, is prohibited to people with this visa, but some activities related to business are allowed here. Some of the activities presented as “permissible” appear to allow employment.

The key to making business traveller assessments is to consider the activity being undertaken in the UK. There is a list of what UK Visas and Immigration term as the “permissible activities” and gives a definitive distinction between what is a “work activity” and a “business activity”.

The risk involved in getting this assessment wrong is considerable. The individual travelling can be refused entry to the UK and is the most obvious immediate immigration risk. Immigration officials have a wide discretion about admission of visitors and decisions as to what is ‘work’ and ‘business’ often seem arbitrary. Such difficulties may also have an impact on future immigration applications.

Fines of up to £20,000 can be imposed by the immigration authorities penalising companies who ‘employ’ people without the correct permission to work. Employers may also find that any immigration problems with business visitors can lead to a compliance audit by the authorities and potential revocation of a licence to sponsor workers from overseas.

Kenny concludes: “Travel to the UK requires careful consideration of the employee’s proposed activity in the UK every time. Entry as a business visitor is not a suitable substitute for permission to work and there is significant risk to both the individual and the entity in the UK in hoping the travel will not be scrutinised.

Those responsible for global mobility should ensure these issues are addressed properly and there are suitable systems in place to identify risk.”