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Expecting visitors? The new rules you need to know

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) published new rules for UK businesses in April on what overseas business visitors can lawfully do when they visit the…

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) published new rules for UK businesses in April on what overseas business visitors can lawfully do when they visit the UK. The new Visitor Rules are set out as an appendix to the Immigration Rules. They replace the previous guidance and are intended to provide a ‘one stop shop’ for UK businesses and others to consult when they are hosting a visitor. 

What has changed?

Prior to the new Visitor Rules coming into force, there were 15 different categories of visitor with distinct rules applicable to each. Now there are just four categories of visitor, which simplifies the rules considerably.  

Only two categories are relevant for UK employers – the Visitor (Standard) category and the Permitted Paid Engagements visitor category. The new Rules have also expanded the list of activities that visitors are permitted to do, which is helpful for UK businesses as it gives added flexibility.

What can visitors do under the Visitor (Standard) rules?

The new rules set out exactly what business visitors can and cannot do when they visit the UK. Visitors in this category must not intend to work in the UK, which includes the following:

  1. taking employment in the UK (paid or unpaid);
  2. doing work for an organisation or business in the UK;
  3. establishing or running a business as a self-employed person;
  4. doing a work placement or internship;
  5. direct selling to the public; or
  6. providing goods and services

unless expressly allowed by the permitted activities set out in the Rules. Those who wish to actually work in the UK should apply for sponsorship under Tier 2 of the points based system, or for some other visa.

Visitors in this category can do the following:

  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews
  • give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches
  • negotiate and sign deals and contracts
  • carry out site visits
  • gather information for their employment overseas
  • be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.

Further examples of what is allowed are set out in the Rules. It is important that the Visitor does not overstep the line by actually working as this can lead to civil and criminal penalties for the UK business and for the individual concerned.

How long can a visit last?

In broad terms, business visitors can generally come to the UK for up to six months (although there are exceptions to this). In practice, it would be unusual for a visit to last as long as six months and the length of a visit may lead to concerns about whether the person is actually working rather than undertaking permitted activities.

Written undertakings from the UK business

The new Rules envisage UK businesses being asked to provide a written undertaking in some cases agreeing to maintain and accommodate their business visitor during their time in the UK. Under the previous rules this was not possible.  It can also be advisable for any business visitor to carry a letter from the ‘host’ business setting out exactly what the visitor will be doing during their visit (and the duration of it amongst other things).  This letter can be helpful if the individual is questioned by UKVI on his or her entry to the UK.

What is the permitted paid engagement category?

This is a specialist category that allows certain individuals including academics, lecturers, lawyers, artists, entertainers, musicians and sports people to visit the UK for certain purposes without having to obtain some sort of permission to work.  The period of the visit is for up to one month. Further detail is contained in the Rules.

Read the new appendix to the rules.

If you have any concerns about the implications of the new rules for your organisation or require advice on any aspect of business immigration please do speak to your usual contact in the Weightmans employment pension and immigration team or contact Elaine McIlroy (elaine.mcilroy@weightmans.com).