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No digital nomads, but from January, UK visitor visas will allow more business activities

The government will explore further reforms to the business visitor rules during 2024.

Last month the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt promised that “the government will expand the business visitor rules to allow businesspeople to engage in a wider range of permitted activities and paid engagements, to take effect from January 2024. The government will also explore further reforms to the business visitor rules, during 2024.”

The first of these changes, set to take effect from January have now been published by the UK Government in a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules this month. These make the permitted activities someone can do on a visitor visa to the UK more flexible, but fall far short of allowing people to come and work remotely in the UK without a work visa. While it is generally acceptable for a visitor to the UK to carry out a permitted activity (such as attending a conference, seminar or business meeting) or to keep in touch with their job overseas (e.g. checking emails from your hotel room), people are not permitted to come to the UK as a visitor for the express purpose of remote working. In most cases, if a person wants to work remotely in the UK, they will need an appropriate visa with work authorisation, such as a Skilled Worker visa.

Permitted Paid Engagements
The main change in January is that the one month Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visa for experts in their field coming to the UK to undertake specific paid engagements will cease to exist as everything you are currently allowed to do under the PPE visa is being incorporated into the six months Standard Visitor visa. However, such activities will have to be carried out in the first month even if you stay longer in the UK.

The Standard Visitor visa is for people who want to visit the UK for a temporary period, (usually for up to six months), for purposes such as tourism, medical treatment, visiting friends or family, carrying out a business activity, or undertaking a short course of study. People may not carry out unpermitted paid work or study.

As of 31 January 2024, the Standard Visitor visa will allow all the usual activities such as attending meetings, interviews, conferences or seminars, site inspections, negotiating and signing deals and contracts, as well as the paid engagements allowed under the current PPE visa for those invited as an expert in a qualifying profession by a qualifying UK-based organisation or client.

The additional activities that can be undertaken will apply to anyone who makes their visa application on or after 31 January 2024, as well as non-visa nationals (such as Australian, US, Mexican or EU/EEA/Swiss nationals) who do not need a visa to enter the UK as a visitor.

Do be aware that permitted paid engagements must be arranged before travel to the UK, engagements must be declared as part of your application for entry, evidenced by a formal invitation, and must relate to the individual’s area of expertise and occupation overseas.

Another change is that applicants who are seeking to undertake a permitted paid engagement must be aged 18 or over when they enter the UK instead of the current condition that they are aged 18 or over on the date of application.

When the new rules take effect, speaking at a one-off talk or short series of talks and speeches will also be included as a permitted paid engagement, where you have been invited to a conference or other event. This was previously not allowed if this was a profit-making event.

Intra-corporate Activities
For these activities, the current restriction of working directly with clients will be removed. An employee of an overseas company will be able to undertake the following activities with clients:

  • Advising and consulting;
  • Trouble-shooting;
  • Providing training and
  • Sharing skills and knowledge.

They will be permitted to do the above provided that the activities are required for the delivery of a project or service by the UK branch rather than a project or service that is being delivered by the overseas business. Any client-facing activity must also be incidental to their employment abroad.

Providing legal services
The permitted activities for overseas lawyers are also expanding considerably.

At the moment, they are only permitted to advise a UK based client on specific international litigation and/or an international transaction. Under the new Immigration Rules, they will be able to provide a wider range of legal services which will not just have to be for a UK based client any more.

They will be able to conduct the following activities:

  • Advising;
  • Appearing in arbitration;
  • Acting as an arbitrator/mediator;
  • Acting as an expert witness;
  • Appearing in court in jurisdictions which allow short term call or where qualified in that jurisdiction;
  • Conferences, teaching;
  • Providing advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing;
  • Litigation and
  • Transactional legal services, including drafting contracts.

Science and academia
Academics, Scientists and researchers have been restricted to carrying out research for their own purposes if they are on sabbatical from their home institution.

Under the new rules, they will be permitted to conduct research either for a specific project which directly relates to their employment overseas or independently without having to be on sabbatical.

Remote working
The government is also clarifying that visitors will be allowed to work remotely from the UK on activities relating to their employment overseas, providing this is not the primary purpose of their visit. The new rules do not seem to contain restrictions on the range of work activities that may be carried out remotely.

Though people are still not permitted to come to the UK as a visitor for the express purpose of remote working, so sorry to disappoint any digital nomads hoping to set up laptops on Blackpool Beach.

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