Assessing travel and visa obligations in UK

When traveling to the United Kingdom (U.K.), your nationality and the types of activities you will conduct during your trip will determine whether you may travel lawfully as a business visitor or if you require a work visa. Please seek advice from your immigration counsel if you are uncertain about the specific types of activities that constitute business or work. See information regarding post-Brexit requirements below.


Traveling for business

What types of activities may I engage in as a business visitor?

As a business visitor to the U.K., you may engage in the activities below. Business visitors traveling to the U.K. are only permitted to engage in the business activities specified in Appendix V – Visitors Appendix 3. Permitted Activities for All Visitors. While this list is not exhaustive and other activities could qualify as business, you may:

  • Attend business meetings, conferences, seminars, and interviews
  • Gather information for employment overseas
  • Negotiate and sign contracts
  • Conduct site visits and inspections

In addition to the business activities listed above, some foreign nationals may be eligible to enter the U.K. as visitors for specific short-term paid engagements. Please contact your immigration counsel if you are unsure whether your activities in the U.K. would be permissible on Business Visitor status.

 

If I qualify as a business visitor, do I need a visa for the United Kingdom?

Nationals of the United States and many other select countries are not required to obtain a visa to enter the U.K. to conduct business activities, and are eligible for a visa waiver. If your nationality is not found on the list of visa-waivered nationals, you are required to obtain a standard visitor visa or electronic visa waiver (if eligible) before travel.

The U.K. Home Office has announced that travelers from visa-exempt countries will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before traveling to the U.K. The ETA scheme commenced on November 15, 2023, and Qatari nationals are the first to be required to obtain an ETA. From February 1, 2024, nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates may apply for an ETA. It will be necessary for all those nationals to have an ETA for any travel to the U.K. starting from February 22, 2024. By the end of 2024, an ETA will be required for all visitors who do not need a visa for short-term stays (except Irish nationals and other eligible visitors), including those visiting from European countries, Australia, and the United States.


Working in the United Kingdom

What types of activities require a work visa?

Unless covered by an exemption, foreign nationals must obtain work authorization to engage in active, productive work in the U.K.

 

If I am traveling to the United Kingdom for work, what type of work visa do I need?

The type of work visa required depends on your qualifications, on the nature and duration of your work, and on whether your employer has an entity in the U.K. Work authorization in the U.K. is broken down into different tiers of work visas, each of which contains several categories and subcategories. Additionally, work visa holders applying for stays of more than six months must obtain a Biometric Residence Permit. The most common U.K. work visas are:

  • Skilled Worker Visa
  • Global Business Mobility Visa Routes:
    • Senior or Specialist Worker
    • Graduate Trainee
    • U.K. Expansion Worker
    • Service Supplier
    • Secondment Worker
  • Global Talent Visa
  • Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
  • High Potential Individual Visa
  • Scale-Up Visa

 

Is it possible to be exempted from work visa requirements?

Irish nationals are exempt from immigration restrictions in the U.K. Nationals of countries of the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland require work authorization for the U.K. See information regarding post-Brexit requirements below.


What else should I know?

The U.K. completed its exit from the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020. Free movement lasted until Dec. 31, 2020. In other words, U.K. nationals and their family members were able to study, live, and work in the EU as they previously had without additional authorization until the end of the transition period. The same applied to EU/EEA/Swiss nationals and their families in the U.K. Until the transition period ended, travel rules for the U.K. and EU also remained the same. With the completion of the transition period, freedom of movement within the EU no longer applies to U.K. nationals, and the U.K. has introduced a new immigration system that applies to all EU/EEA/Swiss and non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals alike. Irish nationals, however, are not subject to U.K. immigration restrictions, or vice versa, as the current Common Travel Area arrangements remain in place.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), which governs post-Brexit relations between the EU and the U.K., has altered immigration regulations in the affected countries. Please be sure to contact your immigration representative for full details regarding the TCA’s impact in the U.K.

Inevitably, the legal and strategic considerations impacting visa selection, as well as visa waiver and work authorization eligibility, entail the careful consideration of many factors. We recommend that you consult with your immigration counsel before taking any course of action.

 

Copyright ©2024 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. Government immigration agencies often change their policies and practices without notice; please consult an immigration professional for up-to-date information. This document does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. BAL maintains comprehensive immigration information and processing specifics for our clients.