The global business community demands that multinational companies are able to send their key employees on assignments anywhere in the world to carry out trade.

Onerous and long-winded visa processes can act as a real barrier to international commerce and governments would be well advised to have flexibility in their immigration policies to avoid stifling economic activity.

One way in which the UK has tried to reduce immigration rigidity is through the Business Visitor visa category. Travellers who are “non-visa nationals” do not need prior entry clearance to come to the UK under this route, effectively bypassing the red-tape and costs typically associated with visa applications.

Unfortunately, however, the list of visa national countries includes China, India and Russia; that is to say, three out of the four “BRIC” countries that Britain is so keen to forge economic ties with. This means that business visitors from these countries will need to complete an application form, provide supporting documents and pay a fee before they travel to the UK.

Business visitors should be aware that their permission to stay in the UK is subject to them only carrying out so-called “permissible activities” whilst here. If the intention is for a business visitor to undertake activities other than the prescribed permissible activities then it is likely that they will need to obtain a work permit (i.e. a Tier 2 visa under the points based-system).

Importantly, even where the business visitor’s activities are limited to those that are permissible, if they were to generate profit for a UK company, receive compensation from a UK company, or take direction from the UK company, a work permit is recommended.

While the maximum allowable stay as a business visitor is normally six months, the UK Border Agency has made it clear that business visitor trips are expected to last only a few days. If a business visitor needs to stay longer than a few days then they will need to be prepared to explain in a clear and specific manner why they require a longer stay.

It is essential to understand the limitations and restrictions of the business visitor visa category. There is a thin line between merely a ‘visit’ and what could be perceived as ‘work’; getting it wrong could lead to harsh penalties on both businesses and individuals.