With reports of surges in the number EU nationals being denied entry to the UK as visitors, we are currently advising EU business travellers and their employers of the importance of being prepared when travelling to the UK as a visitor.
Since the end of EU free movement, EU citizens are permitted to visit the UK without a visa, but entry is not guaranteed and remains at the discretion of border officials.
According to media reports and the queries we are receiving from clients, officials are exercising these powers by detaining EU nationals at the border and in many cases, refusing entry.
This is a new area of business risk for EU business travellers, who under pre-Brexit rules had not been subject to immigration restrictions and did not have to grapple with the UK immigration rules and Home Office applications.
In this advice piece, we explain the current rules for business visitors, how EU nationals are now affected by these and how business travellers can best prepare to avoid issues at the UK border.
Post-Brexit rules for EU nationals
‘EU nationals’ refer to citizens of the 26 European Union member states, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The rules apply equally to EU nationals and non-EU nationals who do not have valid UK immigration or residency status.
Irish nationals are also not subject to UK immigration restrictions.
Do EU citizens need a visa to visit the UK?
Under the UK immigration rules, EU nationals can come to the UK and seek permission at the border to enter as visitors, without having to apply for a visa.
EU nationals are considered “non-visa nationals” in the UK, meaning they can seek permission to enter as a visitor at the border without having to apply for a visitor visa, provided certain conditions are met. Importantly, the purpose of the visit must not be prohibited under the Immigration Rules. Appendix V: Visitor of the Immigration Rules defines visitors as being those who wish to come to the UK for a temporary period – in most cases for a maximum of 6 months – for permissible purposes.
To enter as a visitor, travellers can either use the passport eGates or present at the immigration desk to speak to a border officer.
Permissible visitor activities include leisure and tourism, visiting friends and family, undertaking a short course of study, school exchanges and visits
volunteering for up to 30 days with a registered charity or carrying out a business activity.
‘Business activity’ can include:
- Attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews
- Negotiate and sign deals and contracts
- Site visits and inspections
- Intra-corporate activities
- Interpreting and translation work as an employee of an overseas enterprise
- Tour group work
- Scientific and academic research
- Preaching and pastoral work by religious workers
Leave to enter as a visitor is on the basis that the individual leaves the UK within the six month period and does not participate in specified prohibited activities such as employment, studying, marriage, medical treatment or accessing public funds.
Importantly, the prohibited activities only relate to gaining entry as a visitor. Individuals intending to participate in any of the prohibited visitor activities, or where they otherwise do not qualify as a visitor, should make a Home Office application for the relevant visa, such as the sponsored Skilled Worker visa or a marriage visit visa.
Do EU workers need a visa to attend a job interview in the UK?
In response to the recent reports of border entry issues, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster went on record to confirm that attending a job interview is permissible for entry into the UK as a visitor.
Job searching is not listed as a prohibited activity, nor is it considered “work”. EU nationals and other non-visa nationals may travel to the UK without first having to apply for a visa to seek entry as a visitor to look for work and attend job interviews.
The visitor must adhere to the rules of entry, including not intending to undertake any of the prohibited activities and leaving the UK within the six-month visitor period.
If the visit results in the individual being offered a job in the UK, they cannot stay and start their employment. They would need to leave the UK and make an out-of-country application to the Home Office for the relevant work visa. In most cases this would be the Skilled Worker Visa.
Seeking entry: the power rests with UK border officials
Travellers to the UK are not guaranteed entry as visitors. The rules allow only that they can travel and seek permission to enter at the border.
In practice, this means UK border officials have powers to question travellers to determine if they are genuine visitors, and are afforded significant discretionary powers and authority to refuse entry where they believe it is more likely than not that a traveller is not a genuine visitor. The intention alone to engage in a prohibited activity would be sufficient grounds to refuse entry as a visitor.
The Home Office has issued extensive guidance for border officials on assessing visitor eligibility but ultimately, the decision to allow or refuse entry into the UK to EU visitors and non-EU visitors rests with the border officer. There is also no right of appeal, save for the cumbersome judicial review process.
Travellers who do not have documentation to satisfy the border official that they meet the requirements as a visitor may be detained while the officer makes further enquiries, or even refused entry and removed.
This clearly becomes problematic if plans have been made for work, but can be avoided if travellers have documentation with them that proves they qualify as visitors.
In some cases, it may be sensible for EU travellers to apply for a visitor visa in the same way as ‘non-visa nationals, to support their case in the event of any issues at the border.
Avoiding issues at the UK border
Being detained at the border or refused entry can be extremely problematic and inconvenient for business travellers, where important appointments and commercial opportunities are missed.
If a traveller is refused entry, this will be noted on their UK immigration record, which can impact future Home Office applications.
As such, travellers and their employers should take steps to reduce the risk of border issues.
First, before travel, it should be established that the visitor route is appropriate and that the traveller does qualify as a visitor. If not, an application will need to be made under the appropriate work visa route.
Travellers should be prepared with answers to questions they could be asked at the border. This could include questions as to their main reason for visit, such as attending a business meeting or job interview; the proposed length of stay and understanding that this is limited to six months maximum; arrangements for accommodation during the visit; details of return travel.
Visitors can also be asked about their immigration history and previous travel and visits to the UK, to determine if the traveller is a genuine short-stay visitor or if they are using the visit route for ‘under the radar’ residency.
Officers may also enquire about the travellers’ circumstances in their country of residence, to ascertain if the traveller has permanent ties and will leave the UK at the end of their visit. in the form of employment, and financial and personal ties.
- Letter on company letterhead confirming the reason for travel such as job interview, business meeting or exhibition
- Proof of accommodation eg hotel booking
- Proof of return travel booking eg airplane ticket home
- Proof of sufficient funds to support themselves while in the UK
- Proof of ties to your country of residence such as their employment contract, proof of home ownership, proof of family based there.
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: 21 May 2021