Rules for UK visit visas and permitted paid activities have changed - here's how

Rules for UK visit visas and permitted paid activities have changed - here's how

16th February 2024

In the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement, 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 took effect from 31 January 2024. They were not a major reform of the business and other permitted activities that can be carried out on a visit visa, but there are some important changes.

The main difference is that the one month Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visa for experts in their field coming to the UK to undertake specific paid engagements no longer exists - everything that was allowed under the PPE visa is now incorporated into the six month Standard Visitor visa. However, such activities will have to be carried out in the first 30 days regardless of whether someone chooses to stay longer in the UK or not.

NB: where the activities are the usual activities permitted as a Visitor, which range from attending a trade fair to promoting a product to donating a bodily organ, Visitors can carry them out at any point during the granted stay. It is only activities that are classed as PPE that must be carried out in the first 30 days of your stay.

What is a Visitor?

The UK Visitor route is for people who “want to visit the UK for a temporary period, (usually for up to six months), for purposes such as tourism, visiting friends or family, carrying out a business activity, or undertaking a short course of study.” This category is suitable for people who will not be engaging in any unpermitted paid work or study.

Visitors can come to the UK for tourism and certain business activities, which include: negotiating and signing deals and contracts; carrying out site visits or inspections; servicing machinery sold to a British customer and promoting their business at trade fairs (though they cannot sell things).

Some Visitors will require a visa or entry clearance for the UK unless they are a “non-visa national."

Who needs a Visit visa for the UK?

British and Irish citizens enjoy free movement into the UK without the need of a visa. Those with permission on the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) or another type of UK visa relevant to the purpose of their trip do not need to apply for a visit visa either.

For everyone else, the UK Government has a list of countries whose citizens are “visa nationals.” Visa nationals must apply for a Visitor visa and obtain entry clearance before their arrival in the UK. There are exceptions such as emergency travel documents and diplomatic passports.

Those not on the list of visa nationals generally do not need a Visitor visa to come to the UK, so long as they stick to permitted activities and are not coming to the UK to marry, form a civil partnership or give notice of impending marriage or civil partnership (unless British, Irish or EUSS). However, with a criminal record or a poor immigration history, they may wish to consider applying for a visit visa anyway so that their circumstances can be considered before arrival at the border.

Stateless people and people travelling with any documentation other than a national passport or national identity card should also apply for entry clearance before travelling to the UK.

What are January’s changes for visit visas to the UK?

As of 31 January 2024, the activities that Visitors can undertake in the UK have expanded. The Standard Visitor visa now allows 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 if invited as an expert in a qualifying profession by a qualifying UK-based organisation or client.

The additional activities that can be undertaken apply to anyone who makes their visa application on or after 31 January 2024, as well as non-visa nationals entering the UK as a Visitor on or after this date.

As for non-visa nationals who do not need to make an application prior to their entry, the additional activities apply if they enter the UK as a Visitor on or after this date.

Changes to permitted activities that Visitors can participate in over the whole of their stay:

Intra-corporate activities

For these activities, the previous restriction of working directly with clients has been removed. An employee of an overseas company may now undertake the following activities with clients:

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

They are 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 have also expanded considerably.

Before 31 January, overseas lawyers were only permitted to advise a UK based client on specific international litigation and/or an international transaction. Under the new Immigration Rules, they are now able to provide a wider range of legal services which no longer has to be for a UK based client.

They may now 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
  • Transactional legal services, including drafting contracts.
Science and academia

Academics, scientists and researchers had been restricted to only carrying out research for their own purposes if they are on sabbatical from their home institution.

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

Manufacture and supply of goods to the UK

An employee of an overseas company may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment/software or train UK based workers to provide these services where there is a contract with a UK organisation and the overseas company is the manufacturer, supplier or part of a contractual arrangement for after sales services.

According to the latest Home Office Guidance employees will now also be able to enter the UK if “required, for safety reasons, to operate equipment, machinery, or hardware that is being provided under contract of purchase, supply or lease to a UK company or organisation.”

Permitted paid engagements

As mentioned above, all visitors on the standard Visitor route can now carry out activities classed as permitted paid engagements.

The engagements must be arranged before the individual travels to the UK, and must be declared as part of an application for entry. It must also be evidenced by a formal invitation and must relate to the individual’s area of expertise and occupation overseas.

We would advise both visa nationals and non-visa nationals to have formal invitations for their engagements ready and with them.

An additional requirement is that the permitted paid engagements will be completed within 30 days of the visitor’s entry to the UK despite the fact that the maximum initial length of stay as a Visitor in the UK is up to six months.

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

Speaking at a one-off talk or short series of talks and speeches is now also included as a permitted paid engagement, where Visitors have been invited to a conference or other event. This was previously not allowed if this was a profit-making event. 

General business activities – remote working

The UK Government has also clarified that Visitors are 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, but the Home Office published the following guidance in January which should inform how Immigration Officers decide if Visitors will be crossing the line between unlawfully working in the UK and occasionally logging in to work emails and remote meetings.

People are still not permitted to come to the UK as a Visitor for the primary 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.