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Business travel after Brexit: what do employers need to know?

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The immediate threat of a no deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 has gone – but many employers will now be turning their minds to the possibility of Brexit on 31st January 2020 instead.

One of the issues that employers may need to plan for, will be changes to immigration rules that may impact business travel (both inbound and outbound) within the EEA following Brexit.

Most businesses will be involved in business visits from time to time – either hosting visitors for training or other events or sending UK nationals to the rest of Europe for business trips. Freedom of movement has meant that there has been no need for any visas to date for EEA citizens visiting the rest of Europe for business purposes (or inward visits to the UK by EEA citizens).  That will change with Brexit and additional planning will be required.

‘In-bound’ visits – EEA/Swiss citizens undertaking business visits to the UK

Period to 31 December 2020

The government has announced that in both a ‘Deal’ and ‘No-Deal’ scenario, travel arrangements for EEA / Swiss Citizens coming to the UK to visit (including for business purposes) will not change until January 2021. This means that business visitors who are EEA / Swiss citizens will not require a visa for a business visit. In addition, there are no restrictions on what they can do whilst on a business visit during that period.  They do not need to confine their activities to the list of acceptable activities that would apply to nationals from other countries – they could even ‘work’ if they wanted to.

After 1 January 2021

From January 2021, it is expected that EEA and Swiss visitors will be subject to the same rules that Third Country citizens are already subject to. These rules are known as the ‘Visitor Rules’. These rules strictly prohibit the visitor from ‘working’ in the UK or receiving payment from a UK source (except in some specific circumstances). The rules also set out specific activities that visitors can carry out in relation to business.  Permitted activities include training, attending conferences and seminars, skill sharing on specific intra-group projects and gathering information for overseas employment. Citizens from some countries must also apply for a visa in advance and pay a fee in order to enter the UK as a visitor.  For those citizens who do not require a visa in advance, it is usually recommended that they travel with a letter from their employer setting out the specific permitted activities that they will undertake when in the UK.  EEA citizens who wish to work would need to apply for some sort of work permit / visa that permits work.

‘Outbound visits’ – UK citizens undertaking business visits to EEA countries/Switzerland

Period to 31 December 2020 – if there is a deal

In a Deal scenario, travel arrangements for UK citizens visiting EEA countries or Switzerland (including for business purposes) will not change until January 2021. UK visitors will be able to enter the EU in the same way they do now without a visa.

If there is no deal (with effect from the date of the no deal Brexit) – and after 1 January 2021 in a deal scenario

In a No-Deal scenario (with effect from the date of the no deal Brexit)  and from January 2021 (in the case of a deal), it is expected that there will be some significant changes to the rules for UK citizens visiting the EU for business purposes (unless the UK and EU member states agree otherwise). UK citizens will be regarded as Third Country visitors, and will be subject to the specific entry rules of each member state they are visiting and some general principles in relation to travel to the EU. The key things that visitors will have to consider are:

  • The activities which they will be carrying out. The specific activities which are permitted as a visitor vary from member state to member state – therefore it will be important to know in advance if the activities planned for the trip are permitted by the relevant country. Some member states may also require visas to be obtained in advance of travel, or to carry supporting evidence of the reason for travel. Further details on entry requirements for EU countries can be found here.
  • Having at least 6 months of validity left on their passport on the date of travel. It is a requirement that visitors to Schengen countries must have at least 6 months of validity left on their passport in order to be permitted entry.
  • Limits to the amount of days which can be spent in the Schengen area. Currently, there is a limit of 90 days’ stay within any 180-day period. For those who travel regularly, it would be advisable to keep a record of the days spent within the Schengen area to ensure that they are not in excess of the limit.
  • Additional documentation. Upon entry to the EU, border control may request to see further documentation, such as evidence of a return or onward ticket and evidence that they have enough money to support themselves for the duration of their stay. Such visitors will also need to consider taking out travel insurance policies with sufficient healthcare cover as the European Health Insurance Card will no longer provide UK citizens with healthcare benefits in the EU.

It is important for employers to be aware of the changes in relation to visitors who are both in-bound to the UK and out-bound to the EU. The seamless, visa-free travel that businesses have benefitted from will, eventually, come to an end and employers should be aware of the rules and further planning that may be needed under the new business visitor arrangements.

If you have any queries, please get in touch. Also, visit our Brexit Hub for regular updates on Brexit related matters.

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