Following the changes to the UK's Immigration Rules and the end of free movement between the UK the EEA, business travellers should make sure that their actions fall within the visitor rules before they travel.
Activities that do not fall within the visitor rules will likely require a working visa. We look at the rules in the UK, France and Germany and the visitor requirements for each.
What do EEA nationals need to know about visiting the UK?
Do they have the required documents?
Before setting off to the UK for a business trip or holiday, EEA nationals should ensure that they have their documentation in order. From 1 October, EEA nationals who do not hold a specific visa to enter the UK (for example, under the EU Settlement Scheme, an EEA Family Permit or via a frontier worker permit) will be required to use their passport to enter the UK. This is a change from the rules which were previously in place, where EEA nationals could travel using their National Identity cards. Companies should therefore ensure that their employees hold a passport before sending them to the UK on a business trip. Their passport should be valid for the whole time they are in the UK.
Are their activities permitted as a visitor?
EEA visitors can enter the UK for up to six months for reasons such as a holiday, to travel through the UK on their way to another country or for business. Visitors cannot work whilst in the UK without a visa, so what can they do whilst in the UK on a business trip? Visitors can:
- attend conferences, seminars, business meetings or interviews;
- give a one-off or short series of talks or speeches (provided these are not commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser);
- negotiate and sign deals and contracts;
- attend trade fairs, for promotional work only;
- carry out site visits and inspections;
- gather information for their employment overseas; and
- be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.
Visitors should ensure that they are not doing any work for a business in the UK or running a business as a self-employed individual. They should not receive any payments for activities whilst in the UK, except for reasonable expenses to cover the cost of their travel and subsistence (for example if they are visiting a UK office of an overseas business).
What if they are on a business trip to the UK from an overseas office?
There are certain business activities that visitors can do when visiting an intra-corporate UK office of their overseas employer. An employee of an overseas based company can provide advice, training and share their skills and knowledge with UK employees on a specific internal project, provided no work is carried out directly with clients.
When travelling to the UK from an overseas employer, we recommend that the employee travels with a letter from their overseas employer confirming the activities that they will be carrying out whilst in the UK. Please let us know if we can assist with the preparation of such a letter.
What if they are contracted to manufacture and supply goods to the UK?
Employees of a foreign manufacturer or supplier will not require a work visa (and can therefore enter the UK as a visitor) to 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.
From 6 October 2021, visitors will also be able to train UK based employees to provide these services. The requirement to have a contract of purchase or supply or lease with a UK company will also be extended as the overseas entity will need to be either (a) the manufacturer or supplier or (b) part of a contractual arrangement for after service sales agreed at the time of the sale or lease, including in a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease.
What do UK nationals need to know about visiting the EU?
Entering the Schengen Area / Working in the EU
Since the UK is no longer part of the EU, UK citizens are now considered third country nationals. However, UK nationals are still able to visit the Schengen area without having to apply for a visa for a maximum duration of up to 90 days within a 6-month period ("visa-free period") for leisure activities.
The Schengen Area is a group of 26 countries within Europe who have abolished their internal borders and therefore individuals are able to move freely within the Schengen Area without being subject to border checks. The 26 countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. It is possible to apply for a Schengen visa to allow free movement within the Schengen Area. UK nationals are exempt from the requirement to apply for a Schengen visa.
For entry into the Schengen area UK nationals will require their passports which need to be valid for at least three more months after their planned exit from the Schengen area and must have been issued within the past 10 years. Also, UK nationals should travel with documentation inter alia showing the purpose and duration of their visit and be able to prove financial means for their stay.
Where travel in the EU by the UK nationals is for work purposes (e.g. business travel), UK employers will need to observe that certain minimum working conditions apply for those UK nationals (e.g. statutory rules on remuneration, working time and paid time-off). In addition, certain notification obligations to the respective country's competent authorities for posted workers might apply.
Attention needs to be paid to country-specific regulations on entry requirements which may apply due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Visas and work permits
UK nationals visiting France for business travel do not need a visa if their stay does not exceed 90 days, or, in the event of several stays, if their cumulated stays do not exceed 90 days over a period of 180 days in the Schengen area. There may, however, be specific rules and restraints relating to entry into France and/or quarantine depending on whether the individual is vaccinated and the current pandemic status. We would recommend that current applicable rules should be checked prior to travel.
They would also be exempt from requiring a work permit if their travel is limited to the following main activities:
- Attend conferences, seminars and trade fairs;
- Attend sports, cultural, artistic and scientific events;
- Carry out audits and expertise assignments in IT, management, finance, insurance, architecture and engineering as a seconded employee under contract.
Other specific exemptions exist in the cultural, modelling and teaching fields.
Declaration of secondment
If the business travel to France is for the benefit of the UK employer and not for a French branch or a third-party entity located in France, there is no need to declare the UK employees as posted employees. Otherwise, UK nationals should be declared as such to the French authorities even if they only stay for a few days, except for speakers at seminars and scientific events and other specific exceptions.
The declaration of secondment can be done online here.
Applicable employment law rules
Note that the following "core" areas of French legislation apply to foreign employees on business travel to France:
- individual and collective freedoms in the employment relationship;
- rules relating to discrimination and gender equality;
- working time, compensatory rest;
- remuneration (including overtime);
- rules regarding health and safety at work;
- rules relating to illegal work;
- reimbursements of some professional expenses linked to the employee's mission (transport, meals and accommodation).
Germany – UK Nationals visiting Germany
Freedom of movement for UK nationals in the EU ended with Brexit and since then carrying out work in Germany generally triggers visa requirements. If a visa is required for a particular work activity, that work must not be performed until the visa has been issued. Breaches can lead to penalties, for example, potentially steep fines for the employer.
However, there are a few exceptions for certain activities which UK nationals are permitted to carry out during their stay in Germany without having to obtain a visa beforehand. Such visa-free activities include, for example:
- attending business meetings,
- negotiating and concluding deals and/or contracts,
- activities pertaining to contracts for labour and materials (Werklieferungsverträge) or
- activities of tour guides, cross-border coach drivers, professional athletes, photo models or interpreters,
but applicability remains subject to assessment of each individual case.
When UK nationals travel to Germany for such business activities, we recommend that their employers provide them with appropriate documentation e.g. a letter stating the extent and duration of their activities which can be presented to the authorities on entry into Germany.
What about frontier workers?
For those individuals from the EEA who live outside the UK and began working in the UK on or before 31 December 2020, it is still possible to travel to the UK using a Frontier Worker permit. The application is free and can be made online. Please contact us if you would like more information about applying for a Frontier Worker permit.
Right to work checks
Employers should be aware that the Government updated the Right to Work checks guidance on 31 August 2021. The list of acceptable documents when carrying out a check has been updated so employers should familiarise themselves with the eligible documentation and ensure checks are being carried out in full.