The UK business visitor visa is generally preferred by business travelling employees and their employers since the application process is typically less onerous than other work visa routes.
However, the rules on permissible activities under this visa are restrictive, and border officials have powers to question individuals travelling to the UK under the business visitor visa. If not satisfied that the visa conditions will be adhered to, they have powers to deny entry.
We are regularly asked by HR teams to help where an employee, relying on a business visitor visa, has been detained at the border and refused entry into the country. This is an unwanted experience for the employee, and places considerable pressure on the HR team to resolve quickly.
But border issues can be avoided if the employee’s immigration options are considered before they travel and specifically, where it’s clarified whether the traveller will be deemed eligible for a business visitor visa UK.
What is the business visitor visa?
If you want to travel to the UK, usually for up to six months, for a temporary purpose, for example as a tourist, to visit friends or family or to carry out a business activity, you would be classed as a visitor.
Not all visitors have to apply for a visitor visa.
Nationals of certain countries as designated by the Home Office are allowed to come to the UK and request entry as a visitor at the border. So-called ‘non-visa nationals’ however must apply for a visitor visa from their country of residence before they travel.
The visitor routes include the following categories:
- Standard Visit
- Marriage / civil partnership visit
- Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visit
- Transit Visit
Business visitors fall under the ‘Standard Visit’ rules, and the business visitor visa is known as a ‘Standard Visitor Visa’.
You can apply if you want to visit the UK for business-related activities for a short period of time. Visitor visas are usually granted to allow business travellers to stay for up to six months.
Do EU citizens need a visitor visa?
Since the end of EU free movement, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can enter the UK for up to six months without requiring a visa to participate in business-related activities, such as meetings, events and conferences. Employment is not permitted under this provision, and the worker will instead be required to apply for the relevant work visa.
What activities are permitted for business visitors?
In particular, general business activities can include:
- To attend meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews
- Give a one-off or short series of talks provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser
- Negotiate and sign deals and contracts
- Attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling
- Carry out site visits and inspections
- Gather information for their employment overseas
- Be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK
Employees of an overseas-based company are also permitted to undertake the following corporate or intra-corporate activities:
- Advise, consult, trouble-shoot or provide training
- Share skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients
- Carry out regulatory or financial audits as an internal auditor at a UK branch of the same group of companies as your employer overseas
- Receive training from a UK-based company or organisation in work practices and techniques which are required for the visitor’s overseas employment and not available in their home country.
There are also additional sector-specific activities that are permitted, including but not limited to the following:
- To take part in a specific sports-related event
- To perform in the UK as an artist, entertainer or musician
- To undertake research as an academic or to accompany students on a study abroad programme
- To undertake a clinical attachment or observer post as a doctor or dentist
- To obtain funding to start, take over, join or run a business in the UK.
What is not permitted on a Business Visitor Visa?
Under the Visitor Rules there are also various activities that are prohibited. In particular, unless expressly allowed by the permitted activities, you must not intend to work in the UK, which includes the following:
- Taking employment in the UK
- Doing work for an organisation or business in the UK
- Establishing or running a business as a self-employed person
- Doing a work placement or internship
- Directly selling to the public
- Providing goods and services
As a visitor you must not receive payment from a UK source. There are very few exceptions to this rule.
When engaging in permitted activities, this must not amount to you taking employment, or doing work that amounts to you filling a role or providing short-term cover for a role within a UK based organisation.
In addition, where you are already paid and employed outside of the UK, you must remain so. Payment may only be allowed in specific circumstances, for example, billing a UK client for your time in the UK in circumstances where your overseas employer is contracted to provide services to a UK company and the majority of the contract work is carried out overseas.
Under a Business Visitor Visa UK, except as permitted under the Visitor Rules and where any additional requirements have been met, you must not intend to study in the UK, access medical treatment other than private medical treatment or to donate an organ, or to marry or form a civil partnership, or to give notice of this, in the UK.
What are the eligibility criteria for a Business Visitor Visa?
To be eligible for a Business Visitor Visa UK you must satisfy the following eligibility criteria:
- Genuine intention to visit: you will leave the UK at the end of your visit and within the permitted period.
- Genuineness & credibility: you have proof of any business or other activities you want to do in the UK, as allowed by the Visitor Rules.
- Maintenance & accommodation: You have enough money without help from public funds to support and accommodate yourself and you can pay for your return or onward journey
Genuine intention to visit
It is important that you satisfy the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) that you are a genuine visitor. This means that you:
- will leave the UK at the end of your visit; and
- will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home; and
- are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes; and
- will not undertake any of the listed prohibited activities; and
- must have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit without working or accessing public funds.
Maintenance & accommodation
You must show that you have access to sufficient resources to adequately maintain and accommodate yourself for whole of your planned visit.
There is no set level of funds required but visa nationals will be required to submit supporting evidence to demonstrate their financial stability. Non-visa nationals may be asked to provide information about their funds on arrival to the UK.
In certain instances, travel, maintenance and accommodation may be provided by a third party where the ECO is satisfied that they:
- have a genuine professional or personal relationship with you, as the visitor; and
- are legally present in the UK, or will be at the time of the your entry to the UK; and
- can and will provide support to you for the intended duration of their stay. The third party may be asked to give an undertaking in writing.
Genuineness & credibility
The ECO must be satisfied that you meet all of the requirements of the Rules and are a genuine visitor as mentioned above.
There are a number of factors which may be taken into account:
- previous immigration history, including visits to the UK and other countries
- duration of previous visits and whether this was significantly longer than originally stated on your visa application or on arrival
- financial circumstances as well as family, social and economic background
- personal and economic ties to your country of residence
- cumulative period of time you have visited the UK and your pattern of travel over the last 12 month period
- political, economic and security situation in your country of residence/nationality
If you are being paid by a UK company to visit as an expert in your profession, you should apply instead for a Permitted Paid Engagement visa.
It is inherent within these criteria that you are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes, namely business-related activities, and that you will not undertake any prohibited activities (see above).
How do I apply for a Business Visitor Visa?
An application for a Business Visitor Visa must be made while you are outside the UK. You will need to complete an online application and pay a fee. You will also need to provide a valid travel document, supporting documentation and, where applicable, biometric information, ie; your fingerprints and a digital photo.
The earliest you can apply is three months before you travel, and you should get a decision within around three weeks – although you should check the guide processing times to find out how long getting a visa might take in the country you’re applying from.
If your application for a Business Visitor Visa is successful you can usually stay in the UK for up to six months. You might be able to stay for longer if you’re an academic on sabbatical and coming to the UK for research.
Frequent or successive visits
If you have travelled to the UK quite frequently, the ECO will be concerned with determining whether you are making the UK your main home or place of work. They will look at a number of factors in deciding this such as:
- the purpose of the visit and intended length of stay
- the number of visits made over the past 12 months, including the length of stay on each occasion and the time between each visit
- the purpose of trips back to your home country and if this is used only to seek re-entry to the UK
- the links you have with your home country
- Whether you are registered in the UK for tax purposes
- History of previous applications, for example previous refusals under different immigration categories
- Evidence that the UK is your main place of residence, for example:
- You are registered with a GP; and/or
- You send your children to UK schools
Will a Business Visitor Visa guarantee entry?
The grant of a Business Visitor Visa UK will not guarantee entry to the country. It is still possible that you may be refused entry by border officials in the event that they are not satisfied that you fulfil all of the eligibility criteria, in particular where it is believed that the reason for your visit is not genuine or where the activities you plan to engage in are classed as prohibited work.
You may also need to provide proof that you have access to sufficient resources to maintain and accommodate yourself adequately for the whole of your planned visit to the UK. There is no set level of funds required to show this, rather your income or savings, minus your financial commitments, must be sufficient to meet the likely costs you will incur in the UK and be reasonable expenditure in light of your financial situation.
Please note, in relation to having the necessary funds for travel, maintenance and accommodation, proof may be provided by a third party by way of a written undertaking where there is a genuine professional or personal relationship, and this support will be available for the intended duration of your stay.
Visitor visa or paid engagement visa?
You can apply for a Permitted Paid Engagement Visa if have been invited by a UK-based organisation or client to come to the UK to do specific paid work without having to be sponsored under the points-based visa system.
To be eligible for this type of visa you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You are 18 or over
- You are visiting the UK for no more than 1 month
- You will leave the UK at the end of your visit
- You have enough money without help from public funds to support and accommodate yourself
- You can pay for your return or onward journey
- You are not in transit to a country outside the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Under a Permitted Paid Engagement visa you can undertake the following activities:
- Be a student examiner or assessor
- Take part in selection panels as a highly qualified academic if you’re invited by an education, arts or research organisation
- Give lectures at a higher education institution, or arts or research organisation, as long as it’s not a part-time or full-time role
- Examine UK-based pilots so they meet the standards of the country you come from if you’re invited by an approved UK training organisation regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority
- Provide advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of dispute resolution for legal proceedings within the UK as a qualified lawyer
- Take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities as a professional artist, entertainer, musician or sports person if you have been invited by a creative or sports organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK
- Take part in fashion modelling assignments.
You can also undertake minor activities related to your work or business overseas, such as attend meetings. You cannot, however, undertake specific paid work unrelated to your main job or area of expertise at home, or sell merchandise, other than what is permitted by your visa.
Do you have a question about travelling under the Business Visitor Visa?
The UK’s business visitor visa is restrictive in the activities it permits while the individual is in the country. Business travellers may also find they are subject to questioning at the border, requiring evidence to support their planned itinerary and that activities are permitted under the visitor visa rules.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration advisers to businesses. We provide guidance to employers to meet their global mobility needs, including advice on business travellers.
If you have a question about business travel visa options, contact us.
Business Visitor Visa FAQs
What is a business visitor?
A business visitor is someone who comes to the UK on a short-term basis for business-related reasons or activities without formally taking part in the UK labour market or being employed here.
What is the difference between a tourist visa and a business visa?
In the UK, the standard visitor visa applies to both tourists and business travellers.
Do I need a visa for a business trip to the UK?
Non-UK nationals who are not resident in the UK will need to apply for a visa to travel to the UK. If you a planning a short trip for business, you should apply for the standard visitor visa.
Last updated: 11 January 2021