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When can a visit visa be used for European Union construction workers instead of the points-based immigration system?

In post Brexit EU, could a visit visa be the answer instead of the points-based immigration system which can cause delays and additional costs?

British construction companies have long relied on workers from the European Union (“EU”) for short and medium-term construction projects. Prior to Brexit, this was seamless from an immigration perspective. Not any longer. Where once there was a single market for employment, there is now a points-based immigration system that can act as a barrier and a hindrance to the UK construction sector which, because of Brexit and Covid 19, continues to be hard hit by unprecedented shortages and price inflations on materials and labour. We have looked at whether visit visas might be a solution to this widescale problem. 

The points-based immigration system requires UK construction companies to provide EU workers with sponsorship which can be cost and time prohibitive particularly when an EU worker is required in the UK for a matter of weeks or months rather than years. In some circumstances, visit visas could be used instead. 

Ordinarily, a visit visa does not permit paid work. However, there are some permitted work activities that can be carried out, including under rule PA7.     

Permitted activities — rule PA7

Within the permitted activities is the often-overlooked rule called PA7. This rule permits an employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier of goods to work in the UK on a standard visit visa in order to fulfil a contract of purchase, supply or lease.

PA7 states that:

“An employee of an overseas company may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on machinery, equipment, computer software or hardware (or train UK based workers to provide these services) where there is a contract of purchase, supply or lease with a UK company or organisation and either:

  • the overseas company is the manufacturer or supplier; or 

  • the overseas company is part of a contractual arrangement for after sales services agreed at the time of the sale or lease, including in a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease.”

Section (b) was added to PA7 in October 2021. This addition expressly opens up work on a visit visa to three-way contracts where one foreign company manufactures or supplies the goods or equipment, and a different foreign company provides the specialist labour to install it.

To be able to take advantage of rule PA7 allowing EU workers to enter on a visit visa, the name of the third-party installer (providing the labour) must specifically be written into the contract for after-sales service agreed at the time of sale of the goods or equipment.

An example:

  1. Charente SA is a French company which manufactures air conditioning units.
  2. Pegnitz GmbH is a German company specialises in installing air conditioning units.
  3. Aircon UK Ltd, a British company purchases air conditioning units from Charente and agrees at the time of purchase that Pegnitz will install the units.

Employees of both Charante and Pegnitz may enter the UK on a visit visa for up to six months to carry out work for Aircon UK on the installation of the air conditioning units and also subsequent repairs or servicing of those units.

How does an EU construction worker get a visit visa?

An EU citizen:

  1. Does not need to apply for a visit visa before they enter the UK.
  2. Does need to have a passport which is valid for the whole of the stay in the UK.
  3. May be asked by Border Officials to prove that they:
    • are eligible for the activities they wish to do in the UK (see below)
    • have arranged accommodation for their stay
    • will leave at the end of their visit (e.g. have a return flight booked)
    • can support themselves and any dependants during the trip (or have funding from someone to support them).

In addition, in accordance with the immigration rules, any construction worker travelling to the UK will be required to hold evidence of their intended business activities. This can include:

  1. A letter from their employer confirming:
    • the reason for their visit
    • the nature of the work and how it is a permitted activity under PA7
    • that they will be paid expenses for travel, subsistence and accommodation
    • the likely duration of the work
    • that they will, at all times, remain employed by their non-UK employer (including details of job title, start date or employment and salary).

  2. A copy of the agreement (or similar evidence) for services between the UK company and the non-UK company(s).

It seems clear that the use of visit visas for EU construction workers could, in the right circumstances be a cost and time-efficient alternative to sponsorship. It could have a major positive impact on the UK construction sector, and that can only be a good thing in today’s climate.

If you are an EU citizen or a UK construction company affected by any of the issues covered in this article, our experts are ready to help you. For immigration law advice, please contact Mandy Higgins. For construction law advice, please contact Colette Morgan-Ford.