With the clock rapidly ticking towards January 1 2021, EU ‘freedom of movement’ rules which facilitate hassle-free travel across the EU will soon no longer apply to Britons. Similarly, EU nationals will soon lose the benefit of the preferential access they currently enjoy under EU law when visiting the UK. According to an ITM survey published this week, 45% of travel buyers say their travel programmes are not fully prepared for Brexit. So, just what are the key implications for business travellers once the transition period and free movement rules end? Moji Oyediran, Senior Associate – Business Immigration and Employment for Travers Smith LLP, answers our Q&A.
Will visas be required for business travel?
Not necessarily. The UK and the EU have committed to maintaining visa-free access on a reciprocal basis to allow visitors to undertake a limited scope of ‘permitted’ business activities. At the time of writing, negotiations are continuing towards a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU. If an agreement is reached based on the published draft text, this could include commitments permitting access for certain specified short-term business activities on a reciprocal basis.
Crucially, there are currently no uniform rules across the EU as to what business activities will be permitted for UK nationals from 1 January 2021. The UK also currently applies its own set of rules for non-EU business visitors and it plans to extend these to EU visitors from January 1 2021.
Under current rules, meetings with colleagues, attending conferences and exhibitions connected with trade or industry would generally fall within the scope of permitted business activity in the UK and the EU. However, undertaking productive work, selling goods or providing services to local clients will generally not be permitted on a visa-free basis and a work permit would normally be required.
Whilst tagging on some ‘work’ at the start or end of a holiday is fine under EU free movement rules, this may prove tricky for UK nationals visiting the EU or EU nationals visiting the UK from January 2021 onwards.
How long can visa-free business trips be?
UK nationals will need to keep track of time spent within the 26 countries in the ‘Schengen’ area, which includes all the remaining EU countries (other than Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania) to ensure they stay within the limit of no more than 90 days in each rolling 180 day period from January 2021. Visits to Iceland, Norway, Switzerland as well as Liechtenstein which are not part of the EU but are part of the Schengen area will also count towards the 90-day limit.
Although a business visitor to the UK can technically stay for up to six months, most business trips are expected to be much shorter. Given the restrictions on permitted activities, longer trips can be difficult to justify so most business visitors would expect to stay for a few days or a couple of weeks generally.
What about passport rules?
From January 2021, business travellers between the UK and the EU relying on visa-free entry will need to meet the relevant border and entry requirements for business visitors. As well as showing the purpose of their trip falls within the permitted business activities for the country they are visiting, individuals will also need to be prepared to confirm the purpose and duration of their trip as well as accommodation plans together with confirmation of funds available for the trip.
UK passport holders travelling to the EU from January 1 2021 will need to hold passports issued within the last 10 years which have at least six months to run by the time of their entry into the EU. EU nationals will need passports for entry to the UK from October 1 2021 rather than EU national ID cards.
What if a work permit is required?
The work permit options available will depend on the nature of the activities to be undertaken, the qualifications of the individual and the duration of the stay. In the UK, a visa under the new points-based immigration system employers can sponsor visas under the ‘Skilled Worker’ or ‘Intra Company Transfer’ routes but will need to hold an immigration sponsor licence to do so.
So called ‘Frontier Workers’ who have worked on a cross border basis before Brexit or during the transition period, will need to consider whether they need to apply for permits in order to be able to continue with the same work pattern.
What can corporate travel managers do to minimise the impact of these changes?
Given the significance of the changes, there are several steps that organisations can take to be prepared including:
• consider briefing employees and executives on the requirements to ensure they understand the implications for future trips;
• consider providing letters to facilitate entry at the relevant border;
• consider the implications of visa and work permit processes – e.g. in the UK organisations are encouraged to apply for a sponsor licence (if they have not already done so) to allow for transfers from linked offices in the EU.
Careful planning and implementation should minimise potential disruption.