Many UK organisations have accommodated employees’ requests to work from abroad by moving them to contractor arrangements. The ex-employee might be operating as the overseas equivalent of a sole trader or they might have set up a personal services company in the country from which they are working. What immigration requirements apply when these ex-employees have to come to the UK for business?
The International Agreement route – Contractual Service Suppliers and Independent Professionals
The International Agreement visa route allows UK entities to sponsor Contractual Service Suppliers and Independent Professionals based in the EU to work in the UK, under the framework set out in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). These routes can be used equally for ex-employees and contractors who were never employees of the UK organisation with which they are contracting.
Most ex-employees would fall under the Independent Professional subcategory. Independent Professionals must be established as self-employed in the EU. Under the Immigration Rules, ‘Self-employed’ means a person who is registered as such in their country, or is employed by a company of which they are a controlling shareholder. They must have at least 6 years’ experience in their sector.
The sponsoring UK entity must be the consumer of the services, so an ex-employee could not use this route to come to the UK and service the UK business’s clients in turn.
These visas are based on a contract for a supply of services that must be tendered through a bona fide process on an annual basis. The individual would have to reapply for their visa accordingly every year.
The process of sponsoring the individual would be as follows:
• The UK business applies for a sponsor licence or adds the International Agreement route to its existing sponsor licence;
• The UK business assigns a Certificate of Sponsorship to the individual; and
• The supplier uses the Certificate of Sponsorship to apply for a visa.
Business visitor allowance
Where the individual is an employee of an overseas entity that is contracted to provide services to the UK organisation, they might be able to come to the UK as visitors to undertake business activities. In these circumstances, the employee can bill a UK client for their time in the UK, where the majority of the contract work is carried out overseas. The payment must be lower than the amount of the individual’s salary.
This permission to pay a visitor from within the UK is a specific exception to the general rule against remunerating visitors. The activities in the UK would still have to fall under the permitted activities for business visitors; this includes meetings.
EU nationals can enter the UK as visitors without first applying for a Visit visa. However, we would recommend that they carry with them a letter to present to Border Control, explaining exactly how their activities in the UK fall within the immigration rules.