Explained: Visiting the UK for business
Need to travel to the UK for business? Depending on your circumstances, you may need to apply for UK Standard Visitor visa, which allows foreign nationals from non-EEA countries to travel to the UK to perform certain business activities.
With the new immigration rules now in force, it’s worth getting clued up on the terms and conditions of visiting the UK to make sure you have the appropriate documentation in place should it be required. In the following guide, we explain the purpose of the Standard Visitor visa, the eligibility criteria and how to secure one ahead of your visit.
What is the standard visitor ?
The Standard Visitor visa is a type of standard visit visa that allows non-UK nationals from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland to visit the UK:
- for tourism, for example on a holiday or to see your family and friends
- for certain business activities, for example attending a meeting
- to do a short course of study
- to take part in research or an exchange programme as an academic
- for medical reasons, for example to receive private medical treatment
Through this route, you can enter the UK and stay for a maximum duration of 6 months.
In order to be granted a Standard Visitor visa, you will need to satisfy the Home Office criteria that affirms you are a genuine visitor. This means that you:
- Will leave the UK at the end of your visit;
- Will not live in the UK for extended periods through successive visits, or make the UK your primary home;
- Are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes and will not undertake any prohibited activities;
- Do not intend to take employment in the UK;
- Have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit without working or accessing public funds.
Do I need a Standard Visitor visa?
According to the new Immigration Rules, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can enter the UK for up to six months for business activities without needing a visa. To be clear, employment or self-employment is not permitted without a visa, but EU, EEA and Swiss nationals can undertake certain permitted business-related activities.
Whether or not you require a UK Standard Visitor Visa will depend on whether you class as a “visa national” or not under the Home Office guidance. Visa nationals are those who need a visa for every entry to the United Kingdom (UK) – you can see the full list of visa nationals over on the government’s website.
The Standard Visitor visa is generally preferred by businesses sending their employees to the UK since the application process is less onerous than other work visa routes. However, it’s essential that applicants do not abuse the visitor visa system to circumvent the Immigration Rules relating to work visas and sponsorship.
Visitor visas are usually granted to allow business travellers to stay for up to six months. Employers should consider how long they intend to send someone to the UK as a Standard Visitor, as the longer the trip, the more likely the Home Office will be to scrutinise the application for a visitor visa. Similarly, if your business intends to send someone on repeated trips to the UK, it may be worth exploring other routes that do not raise suspicions of the Home Office.
What activities can I do with a Standard Visitor visa as a businessperson?
Since Standard Visitor visas are aimed at short-term visits, the activities permitted under the visa are more work-related activities than work itself. In particular, general business activities include:
- Attending meetings
- Negotiating or signing trade agreement or contracts
- Undertaking fact-finding missions
- Checking details or goods
- Carry out site inspections and visits
- Attending conferences, seminars, interviews and trade fairs
- Giving a one-off or short series of talks provided that these are not organised to make a profit for the organiser
As an employee of an overseas company travelling to the UK with a Standard Visitor visa, you will also be able to take part in the following intra-corporate activities:
- Advise, consult or deliver training
- Receive training from a UK based company that is not available in your home country but is essential for your role in an overseas company
- Undertake regulatory or financial audits as an internal auditor at a UK branch of the company
- Share skills on an internal project with employees of the UK branch of the same company/group, provided no work is carried out with clients directly
Naturally, there are certain sector-specific exceptions to allow professionals in particular industries to visit the UK on business to do the following:
- Take part in a sports-related event
- Perform in the UK as an artist, musician or entertainer
- To undertake research as an academic
- To obtain funding to set up a business or negotiate a joint venture, merger or takeover
- To take on an observer post of doctor/dentist
What activities are not allowed on a Standard Visitor visa?
Ultimately, any activities that could be construed as taking advantage of the visitor visa to avoid having to apply for a work permit are prohibited. Unless expressly allowed under the permitted activities, you will not be allowed to do the following with a Standard Visitor visa:
- Undertake work for a UK business
- Accept an offer of employment in the UK
- Set up a business or work as a self-employed professional
- Provide goods and services
- Sell goods and services to the public directly
- Undertake a work placement or internship
- Receive payment from a UK source
Who is eligible for a Standard Visitor visa?
To satisfy the criteria for a standard visitor visa, the Home Office must be able to confirm that you have a genuine intention to visit the UK as opposed to staying for work. You must provide supporting documentation to show that you will leave the UK at the end of your visit and within the permitted period.
The eligibility criteria also ask that applicants prove genuineness and credibility by providing evidence of any business activities they intend to carry out. Obviously, these activities must be permitted under the rules of the visa.
Visitor visas will only be granted if an applicant can prove that they have enough money to support themselves and pay for their accommodation and travel, without requiring additional support from public funds.
How do I apply for a Standard Visitor visa?
If you’re planning a business trip to the UK and wish to apply for a Standard Visitor visa, you must make the application well ahead of your journey, while you are outside the UK. The earliest you can apply is three months before you travel, but you can expect a decision on your visa in around three weeks.
You can make your application online and pay a fee of £95. As part of your application, you will need to provide a valid travel document and any supporting documentation that shows your reasons for the visit – for example, a ticket to a conference.
If your application for a Standard Visitor visa is successful, you’ll be able to stay in the UK for up to 6 months. You might be able to stay for up to 12 months if you’re an academic and meet the eligibility requirements, and your spouse/partner and children may be able to join you for up to 12 months. In this case, an £190 fee will be due.
Immigration lawyers for businesses visitors
Our dedicated immigration lawyers are always available to advise you through the process and help get your application together. If you wish to work in the UK on a more permanent basis, we can help direct you towards the right route depending on your circumstances. Simply use the form at the bottom of the page to get in touch and arrange a free consultation.
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