Briefing: EU citizens doing business in the UK by Charlotte Rubin

On 31 December 2020, free movement between the UK and the European Union (EU) ended. EU citizens who lived in the UK before 31 December 2020 must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to retain their residency rights in the UK. The deadline for such applications is 30 June 2021, though late applications may be accepted under certain circumstances. All other EU citizens are now subject to the points-based immigration system as all non-British nationals are. In other words, anyone entering the country since 1 January 2021 must either already possess valid permission to enter or remain in the UK, or they must seek permission to enter as a visitor at the border.

For many EU citizens trying to come to the UK, this has led to confusion and in some cases immigration action has been taken against them. Since January, some EU citizens have been detained upon arrival in the UK because they did not have the right to work or the correct visa to enter the UK. What are the rules exactly?

Preliminarily it should be stated that EU countries are not on the visa nationals list. EU citizens seeking to come to the UK as a visitor will not need to apply for a visitor visa. They can simply fly to the UK and ask for permission to enter the country as a visitor once they land at the border. Visitors are defined as persons “who want to visit the UK for a temporary period, (usually for up to 6 months), for purposes such as tourism, visiting friends or family, carrying out a business activity, or undertaking a short course of study.” This definition indicates some of the restrictions that come with visitor status. Importantly, EU visitors are not allowed to access public funds during their stay in the UK, nor are they allowed to work.

The “business activity” exception does not allow for EU citizens to find a job and work in the UK. Rather, it allows the visitor to undertake certain permitted activities relating to work. For EU-based businesses wanting to send their EU citizen employees to the UK for secondments or other business activities, Appendix V of the Immigration Rules is of paramount importance as it lays out the only route for them to do so, including which type of activities are allowed.

To what extent work is permitted whilst one is in the UK on a visitor visa is a complicated matter, laid out in Appendix V. The rules state that all work is prohibited except the types of work specifically laid out in there. Permitted activities thus include attending meetings, conferences and seminars in the context of the visitor’s job abroad. Meetings may include contract negotiations, closing business deals as well as job interviews. Importantly, however, if a job interview leads to a job offer, the visitor can under no circumstance start the job without applying for a work visa first. If a visitor secures an offer of future employment, they must leave the UK, apply for the appropriate entry clearance from abroad, and then return once they have the right status. Additionally, certain sectors such as journalism, religious work or scientific and academic research are permitted on a visitor visa.

The maximum length of stay for a visitor in the UK is of six months from the date of entry. This is the same for visa and non-visa nationals; if the visitor stays for longer than six months they will be registered as overstayers and be in the UK unlawfully. This may lead to issues the next time they try to return to the UK, as a border officer will be suspicious of their motivations. Considering the potential consequences, it is therefore important to understand what one is and is not allowed to do once they arrive in the UK on a visitor visa.

To sum up, if you are an EU citizen working for an EU company without residency rights in the UK (whether under the EUSS or otherwise), your ability to work in the UK on a visitor visa is limited to the visitor visa requirements. This includes a time limit of six months and also a set list of permitted activities. If you or your employer want you to work beyond that, they will have to apply for a business licence in the UK and set up a structure here.

If you need legal assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme, or have any other questions, you can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211, or send us a question on WhatsApp.

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