Facing up to the demands of post-Brexit business travel

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My last column on the thicket of new visa rules facing UK business travellers when they resume trips to the EU prompted three recurring questions from FT readers. How, if these visas are such a problem, have so many Americans and other non-EU nationals managed to travel to the EU on business? What do EU business travellers have to do to come to the UK? And what can employers and business travellers do to alleviate these restrictions?

The answer to the first question is that Americans and others have been travelling to the EU as “third-country nationals”, meaning they have to comply with each member state’s visa requirements. Post-Brexit, UK citizens are now outsiders too and must comply with the rules imposed on them. For unpaid visits to the EU, such as to attend a meeting or conference, they can spend 90 in every 180 days in the Schengen area without a visa.

To do paid work, they now generally need a visa, as well as complying with each country’s additional rules. In some cases, whichever EU company is paying them will have to demonstrate they can’t find an EU citizen to do the work. Like Americans, many Brits will no doubt find ways to comply with the new rules. It’s not impossible; it’s just a hassle that didn’t exist before.

On the second question, EU business travellers to the UK have to comply with Britain’s entry rules. That there are now travel restrictions in both directions is the result of British choices — to leave the EU and the single market — but the UK’s post-Brexit policy towards EU business travellers is slightly more welcoming than vice versa.

EU business travellers can come to the UK for unpaid meetings or conferences for six months. They can then leave and come back for another six months (no minimum time between visits is stipulated, though, as Lauren Pullen-Stanley, a lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright, warns, anyone doing this too often may be turned back).

To do paid work in the UK, EU citizens can come for a month, visa free, for a few activities, such as giving a university lecture, providing legal advocacy or taking part in an entertainment or sporting event. For other business activities they need a visa and a certificate of sponsorship from the company they are working for, and can stay for up to 12 months. For those EU citizens who have come to the UK to do paid work in the past, Gülçin Kashano, an immigration lawyer at Clifford Chance, advises looking at whether they qualify to be “frontier workers”, which will give them a renewable permit of up to five years to continue coming to the UK.

Can anything be done to make business UK-EU travel easier? There is little political support in the UK. Keir Starmer, the Labour opposition leader, is not advocating a return to freedom of movement. Two EU law professors say the UK should try to conclude bilateral agreements with individual EU countries to ease movement. Dimitry Kochenov of Groningen university and Alberto Alemanno of HEC Paris, say that, just as the UK and Ireland have agreed free movement between their countries, the UK could do the same with, for example, the Netherlands. The European Commission would object but has no legal power to intervene.

In the meantime, business travel between the EU and UK will resume post-Covid. It’s just that it will now require the advice of lawyers and HR departments, the filling in of application forms, and proof of hotel bookings, return tickets and funds to support yourself — whereas before it just involved throwing some clothes in a bag and bringing your passport.

Michael Skapinker will be hosting a live discussion on post-Brexit business travel at the FT Weekend Digital Festival in March

Follow Michael on Twitter @Skapinker or email him at michael.skapinker@ft.com 

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