6 minute read 1 Feb 2021
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What the UK-EU trade deal means for business travel and immigration

Authors
Seema Farazi

Partner, Financial Services, Immigration and Brexit, Ernst and Young LLP; EY EMEIA People Advisory Services COVID-19 Response Leader

Over 20 years' cutting edge immigration law experience. A qualified barrister, who has practised in complex immigration, extradition and public international law cases at all appeal court levels.

Sally Jones

EY UK Trade Strategy and Brexit Leader

Trade Strategy Partner. Helping companies and governments enhance trade. Mother of three. Astronomer.

6 minute read 1 Feb 2021
Related topics Brexit Workforce

Broadly, business travel to the EU now requires employers to navigate and comply with the regulatory requirements of each Member State.

In brief
  • In addition to new actions for all UK nationals travelling to the EU, there are extra requirements and checks for visa or work-permit free business travel. 
  • For most types of travel and immigration, employers must understand and comply with complex rules which differ by Member State. 
  • The end to the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and experience adds significant complexity.

For UK employers with globally mobile workforces or seeking to attract international talent, the legislative landscape changed profoundly in January 2021: the free movement of people between the UK and EU ceased at the end of the Brexit transition period. At the same time, the UK introduced a new points-based immigration system which treats EU and non-EU citizens equally. Separately, and against this backdrop, employers are also navigating evolving COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

Assessing the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement

As well as new actions that all UK travellers to the EU need to take, there are additional considerations for business travel. Business travel includes activities such as travelling for meetings and conferences. The Agreement sets out the types of activities that can be provided without work permits and visas as well as limits on the amount of time that can be spent in the EU visa-free, even for holidays.

A big disappointment of the Agreement is that it fails to provide a common standard that would allow businesses to adopt a lighter touch to EU and UK immigration. The nuances mean that ‘country-by-country’ understanding will be required which will be resource heavy for many businesses.  

This is particularly true for contractual service providers where the new rules are complex in the extreme. Member States set out their reservations (i.e., their ‘non conformity’ with or exceptions to the Agreement) in very disparate ways - for contractual service providers there are literally hundreds of reservations. In most cases, immigration applications will be required. 

Can UK nationals travel to the EU without a visa? 

That depends on the purpose of the trip. 

  • Tourists do not need a visa for short trips to most EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. They will be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
  • Business visitors to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein for less than 90 days in a 180-day period, may be able to do some activities without getting a visa or work permit, for example going to a business meeting.
  • If traveling to take up work, UK nationals will typically require a residence and/or work permit in advance of travel.  
  • All visits, business or otherwise subject to any pandemic travel restrictions.  

UK nationals will be subject to scrutiny as to the purpose of their trip. If a border officer considers that they are travelling for a reason not permitted as a visitor, they can refuse entry.

However, these current arrangements may not be permanent. The UK and EU have committed to give each other notice in good time (at least three months) of a decision to require the other’s nationals to obtain a visa prior to travel. The UK has committed to treat the EU as one bloc for future decisions on whether EU nationals will require a visa for visits to the UK. 

Have the EU and UK agreed what types of activities business visitors can perform? 
The following are specified in the Agreement as permitted business visit activities that do not require a visa or work permit (so long as they meet the definitions given of the activity in the Agreement):

  • Meetings and consultations
  • Research and design
  • Marketing research 
  • Training seminars
  • Trade fairs and exhibitions
  • Sales
  • Purchasing 
  • After-sales or after-lease service
  • Commercial transactions
  • Tourism personnel
  • Translation and interpretation 

However, many Member States have expressed reservations to these activities in the Agreement. This makes it impossible to rely on the Agreement as providing blanket permission across the EU. 

Member States retain the ability to offer more favourable rules (as many do) and the fact that an activity is not listed in the Agreement does not mean that activity is not permitted by every Member State. The ability to conduct the agreed activities will require a Member State-by-Member State assessment in many if not all cases - there are close to 30 reservations by Member States in respect of the above activities in the Agreement. 

The UK has made no reservations and in fact the UK has preferable business visitor rules  in place for all nationals above those in this Agreement in any event, that cover e.g., remote work as an ancillary activity.   

Recognition of professional qualifications

The automatic recognition of professional qualifications for UK nationals in the EU has now ended. Businesses whose services require their employees to possess professional qualifications (e.g.,  engineers, architects and lawyers) will need to consider the status of their professional qualifications and whether they are permitted to provide their services in each Member State - even if they have satisfied the visa and other considerations mentioned throughout this article. Meeting these requirements may mean registering with an EU approved professional regulator or re-qualifying.

The silver-lining is that the Agreement did agree a framework where the regulators and professional bodies are able to come together to negotiate mutual recognition agreements in the future, which will hopefully improve over the coming years.

Complying with new requirements may mean registering with an EU approved professional regulator or re-qualifying.
Sally Jones
EY UK Trade Strategy and Brexit Leader

What about contractual service providers and independent professionals?

The EU and UK have agreed to allow the supply of services by contractual service suppliers (CSS) or independent professionals (IP) of the other party through the presence of natural persons for the sectors listed in the Agreement, of which there are 37 sectors listed for CSS and 17 for IP. There are however several hundreds of reservations set out in the Agreement.  

Does any of this impact movement into / from Ireland?

No, neither the Common Travel Area nor the mutual rights of UK and Irish nationals are impacted.

Has the deal impacted deadlines for those EU/UK nationals resident in the UK/EU by 1 January 2021? 

No, not of itself. These rights are protected in the Withdrawal Agreement. However, the Agreement may favourably impact some of the timelines set out for applications by each Member State (some of which had planned separate application deadlines in a ‘no deal’ scenario). In most cases, the cut off to qualify for protection under the Withdrawal Agreement was 11pm UK time, 31 December 2020; and the cut off to apply is 30 June 2021 – but there are variations across Member States. 

Support EY can offer

We can support by: 

  • Building a matrix to track business travel and activities undertaken in key Member States 
  • Supporting immigration and visa processes for personnel moving across the UK/EU borders
  • Assisting with sponsor licence applications, compliance and assessing current processes 
  • Reviewing immigration strategy and workforce planning to optimise where and how employees are deployed across Europe including compliance for ‘work anywhere’ policies
  • Assessing the viability of travel and effective use of business travel to support ESG and D&I performance
  • Assisting with managing social security and other remuneration costs
  • Devising communication strategies, policies and contracts to manage workforce fears and concerns, and to mitigate against individual and corporate regulatory risk

For further information, please contact this article’s authors or your usual EY contact.

Summary

UK business travel to the EU has undergone the largest change in a generation – indeed, we are now in a new era for UK-EU people movement, heightened by the current pandemic environment. Employers must navigate the rules of 27 EU Member States, adapt their activities to ensure compliance as well understand a new UK immigration regime for inbound EU nationals. 

About this article

Authors
Seema Farazi

Partner, Financial Services, Immigration and Brexit, Ernst and Young LLP; EY EMEIA People Advisory Services COVID-19 Response Leader

Over 20 years' cutting edge immigration law experience. A qualified barrister, who has practised in complex immigration, extradition and public international law cases at all appeal court levels.

Sally Jones

EY UK Trade Strategy and Brexit Leader

Trade Strategy Partner. Helping companies and governments enhance trade. Mother of three. Astronomer.

Related topics Brexit Workforce