A recent change to immigration laws has made it easier for foreign businesses to send EU workers to the UK to fulfil contractual obligations they owe to UK customers.

Background

The UK joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973. In the last 47 years, strong business connections were established between the UK and all other EU countries. And, thanks to free movement rights, businesses in EU countries were able to send their employees to the UK to fulfil their contractual obligations or carry out after-sale services to their UK customers without having to apply for a visa.

Although free movement rights ended on 31 December 2020, it was expected that EU workers would still be able to carry out this work. This was because UK immigration rules permitted ‘foreign manufacturers and suppliers’ to perform certain after-sale services in the UK to their UK customers. This visa is called a standard visitor visa (also known as business visitor visa).

Being non-visa nationals, EU citizens were expected to take advantage of these provisions and travel to the UK without the need to apply for a visa first – even after Brexit.

But, last December, the immigration rules relating to business visas were changed in preparation for Brexit and surprisingly they became stricter. Instead of widening the scope, the words ‘foreign suppliers’ were removed from the rules altogether, leaving only ‘foreign manufacturers’.

Impact of changes

The changes effectively excluded a whole class of sellers from benefiting from these provisions and forced them to explore alternative options which were far more costly and time consuming.

Some of our clients were greatly affected by these strict rules and, as a result, we voiced the policy inconsistency to the Home Office given the intention of the UK government was to continue the trade relationship with our EU partners post-Brexit.

New policy wording

On 4 March 2021, the Home Office published a new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules which reinstates the original wording to include 'foreign suppliers'.

An employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier can now:

'install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment, computer software or hardware, where the manufacturer or supplier has a contract of purchase or supply or lease with a UK company or organisation'.

This change has taken effect from Tuesday 6 April 2021.

“We are pleased that the wording has changed as the benefit will be seen by businesses in the EU as well as UK consumers and businesses.” - Ben Xu, immigration expert, Irwin Mitchell