Who can travel for business visa-free between the UK and the EU?

Moving for work between the United Kingdom and the European Union from January 1 2021 requires a visa. But is a visa needed for short-term business trips? The answer depends on the type of business and the country visited.

The general principle is that there isn’t one EU-wide visa policy. Each EU member state has its own.

There are some visa options that cover the Schengen area, including a business visa allowing travellers to stay for up to 90 days. The EU has agreed to not require a visa for UK citizens for that amount of time. Taking up work or carrying out economic activities is however not permitted under these circumstances.

Within this context, the EU-UK trade agreement recognises that moving across borders is essential for some professions and lists a series of activities that can be carried out for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without the need of a visa or a national work permit.

Only some sectors are covered and even for permitted activities, certain conditions must be fulfilled. In particular, business visitors cannot receive remuneration from a local enterprise, they cannot sell their goods or services to the general public, nor can they engage in the supply of certain other services.

In addition, some EU countries impose extra restrictions, while others offer unilateral exemptions. So, it’s complicated…

Permitted activities

These are the activities for which short-term business trips are allowed without a work permit or a visa, with national reservations:

  • Attending meetings or conferences and consultations with business associates.
  • Conducting technical, scientific and statistical research and design activities. However, except for scientific and statistical researchers, Austria requires a work permit and economic needs test, which usually involves demonstrating that there isn’t someone available locally for the same task.
  • Doing marketing research or analysis. Austria and Cyprus require a work permit and economic needs test. Austria waives the requirement only for stays up to 7 days in a month or 30 days in a calendar year, and demands a university degree.
  • Receiving training, as long as this is “confined to observation, familiarisation and classroom instruction only.” Training on the job is not permitted visa-free.
  • Attending trade fairs and exhibitions to promote the visitor’s company, products or services. Austria and Cyprus, however, require a work permit and an economic needs test for stays beyond 7 days in a month or 30 days in a calendar year.
  • Taking orders, making agreements or negotiating the sale of good and services, but not delivering them directly.
  • Purchasing goods or services for an enterprise.
  • For installers, repair and maintenance personnel, and supervisors with specialised knowledge: carrying out after-sales or after-lease services essential to a contractual obligation or “incidental to the sale or lease of commercial or industrial equipment or machinery, including computer software”. Austria requires a work permit and economic needs test unless the business visitor has specialised knowledge or trains other workers. Cyprus and the Czech Republic require a work permit for visits beyond 7 days in a month or 30 days in calendar year. Spain requires at least 3 years of relevant professional experience and at least 3 months of employment with the supplier of the good or service. Depending on the activity, Finland may demand a residence permit. Sweden requires a work permit, except for testing and other activities for the completion of a business transaction, or for emergency installations or repairs of machinery for up to 2 months.
  • For management, supervisory and financial services personnel, including insurers, bankers and investment brokers: engaging in commercial transactions for their company. Austria and Cyprus require a work permit and economic needs test beyond 7 days in a month or 30 days in a calendar year. Finland requests that the business visitor is an employee of the company.
  • For tour and travel agents, guides or tour operators: attending or participating in conventions or accompanying a tour that has started in the country where they are based. Cyprus, Spain and Poland are not bound by these provisions. Finland requires that the person is an employee of the company. Sweden demands a work permit, except for drivers and staff of tourist buses.
  • Supplying translation and interpretation services as employees of a company located where the short-term business visitor is based. Cyprus and Poland are not bound by these provisions and Austria requires a work permit and economic needs test.

For all these activities, Malta also demands a work permit. Cyprus, Denmark and Croatia require a work permit and economic needs test for the supply of a service, and Latvia when activities are performed on the basis of a contract. Slovenia requests a single residency and work permit for supplying services for more than 14 days at a time and for certain activities (research and design, training, purchasing, commercial transactions, translation and interpretation). Slovakia requires a work permit and economic needs test for stays beyond 7 days in a month or 30 days in calendar year.

Senior managers visiting a country to set up an enterprise can also travel visa-free for up to 90 days in 6 months. But again, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Cyprus are not bound by these measures if they concern a non-profit organisation. Slovakia also requires a work permit and economic needs test, while Cyprus limits stays to 90 days in any 12-month period.

EU member states and the UK have the right to introduce visas for short-term travel in future, but they must give each other at least 3 months’ notice before doing so. If the UK decides to introduce visas, it must apply the same requirements to all EU countries.

Contractors and self-employed

There are separate arrangements for contractual service suppliers and independent professionals, such as lawyers, interpreters, architects, higher education professionals and medical or paramedical personnel among others.

The EU-UK agreement is limited to professionals in certain sectors, who can enter the relevant country and stay for up to 12 months. But “there are conditions that must be satisfied in order to qualify and a visa application may be required in advance to enter under these provisions,” law firm Brodies LLP explains. Even when a visa is not required, a national work permit may be needed once in the country.

Regarding conditions, under the EU-UK deal contractual service suppliers must hold a university degree or equivalent qualifications, have at least 3 years of relevant experience, as well as the professional qualifications legally required to exercise their activity. Independent professionals face similar requirements but need at least 6 years of relevant professional experience.

Also for these activities there are hundreds of national reservations, especially obligations to demonstrate that someone is not available locally for the same job (for the full list see EU-UK agreement, annex SERVIN-4).

“Country-by-country understanding will be required which will be resource heavy for many businesses. This is particularly true for contractual service providers where the new rules are complex in the extreme,” said consultancy EY.

National exceptions

For professions and activities outside the scope of the deal, national rules apply.

Travels for research, study and training, but also cultural performances, participation in sport events or journalistic missions are therefore subject to the conditions set by each EU country. This may include unilateral visa exemptions.

France, for instance, allows UK citizens to work for up to 90 days without the need of a visa and exempts from temporary work permits people travelling for “a sporting, cultural or scientific event, a seminar or trade show, the production and broadcast of cinematographic and audiovisual works, modelling, or IT, asset management, insurance, finance, design, engineering audit or expertise missions”.

On its part, the UK allows visa-free visits for up to 6 months during which it is possible to participate in business-related activities such as meetings, events and conferences.

In short, every profession faces different rules in each country, which will make the organisation of multi-country business trips very complicated.

Calls to review the deal

While the travel restrictions due to the pandemic are mitigating the impact of these arrangements, one month into the deal some professional groups have called for its revision.

A petition asking the UK government to negotiate visa-free travel for the cultural sector has reached more than 280,000 signatures. Opposition MPs are supporting a motion to request special travel rights for media and creative workers. The performing arts sectors is asking for a specific agreement with the EU exempting touring performers, creative teams and crews from entry requirements.

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre, said: “Now that the free trade agreement has been concluded with the EU and we are starting to understand its implications, we want to work with government and our EU counterparts on other mechanisms that will maintain the UK’s longstanding international reputation for critically acclaimed, high quality and financially successful theatre exports, whilst continuing to encourage EU colleagues to collaborate with us here”.

Other sectors, such as fashion and sports, are adding their voice to these calls. Both the UK government and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier have excluded a renegotiation of the deal. A review of its implementation is planned in 5 years. Meanwhile, bilateral agreements between the UK and EU member states could be negotiated.

Irish citizens and UK-based EU passport holders can continue travelling freely between the UK and the EU.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

Image by SNCR_GROUP from Pixabay.

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