Although the Covid-19 pandemic and all the restrictions which were necessitated by it are lodged firmly in the past, it’s evident that certain consequences have remained. Indeed, society’s adaptation to a lockdown lifestyle generated a novel perspective on how we functioned day-to-day. In particular, the area of employment appears to have borne the brunt of the impact in that our attitudes and approaches regarding work have shifted seismically. This goes for both employers & employees alike, and the changes seem to be permanent.
For instance, there is now an unprecedented focus on individuals’ overall wellbeing within the workplace, as opposed to employment being a wholly transactional agreement. Today’s workers want more than the conventional 5 days a week 9-5 arrangement, rather preferring terms which promote a more positive work-life balance. One fore mostly relevant case is that of remote working, i.e., working at a distance from a business’s physical base of operation.
Working from home, as it is commonly referred to, sprung out of a necessity during a time when social distancing regulations were in place. The general expectation was that things would return to ‘normal’ after the fact, however, this has proved itself erroneous. Remote working has come to represent a stellar opportunity for employees to work in whatever conditions they feel like, and also for employers to expand their horizons by looking overseas for top talent while cutting down on overheads.
On the surface, this poses an ideal solution to the UK’s current recruitment crisis. But, as the landscape of the employment market evolves, it becomes singularly pertinent for employers to be informed on the related aspects of employment law. It’s for this reason why we’ve put together this guide to the UK immigration rules for employers of remote workers, so that you’re aware of all the details you need to know about.
Immigration Law on Remote Working
Despite, for the most part, Brexit having made immigration a trickier topic than was previously so, the possibility for widespread remote working has gone a way to somewhat dissolve certain formidable barriers.
For example, if you were to take on an employee who would remain overseas for the entirety of their contract, then it wouldn’t be necessary for you to have a sponsor licence issued from the Home Office. This is because, evidently, you wouldn’t be employing them to physically work in the UK, and so there would be no need for a sponsorship certificate. Ultimately meaning, that there would be a relatively small level of complexity involved, hence why overseas employment has recently become so attractive to business owners looking to bolster their workforce.
Having said this, this degree of freedom only applies to those businesses which have roles where remote working is wholly feasible. It may be that the bulk of a given employee’s duties can be carried out from a distance, but with distinct obligations requiring their temporary presence in the UK. By the same token, if you, as an employer, ran into an inconvenient shortage of office-based workers, then you might urgently need one, or multiple, of your overseas workers to fulfil whatever circumstantial responsibilities are at hand. This is where complications can arise, that is, if the employment contract which was initially proposed doesn’t account for prospective travel into the UK and your business doesn’t have an up-to-date sponsor licence issued by the Home Office.
Travelling into the UK for Business Purposes
The crux of a non-UK resident entering into the UK for work is context, namely, what activities will they be carrying out exactly? If you’re an employer and you need one or more of your employees to work under a sponsor licence, then you will have to make the certification provision for them. This will, thereby, allow them to apply for either a skilled worker visa or intra-company transfer visa. The application process will typically begin at the commencement of a worker’s employment for the former instance, or occur at a point when UK-based work is required during their tenure for the latter.
The nature of the visa that your employee will need to possess depends on the specified terms in their contract and how frequently occasional travelling is necessary. If there is no reference made to future travel to the UK in an employee’s contract, i.e., they are labelled as working completely remotely, then the two previous visas will not apply. This doesn’t, however, bear the implication that crossing into the UK for work is prohibited for such employees, but that they will need to obtain a business visa instead, as the visitor visa immigration rules stipulate.
Differences Between Sponsored Employees & Workers with a Business Visa
Of course, business visas and those entailed by sponsorships from the Home Office are two very different things. Concerning work, business visas house specific limitations for employees, whereas skilled worker visas and intra-company transfer visas place responsibilities upon their employers.
If you are afforded the privilege of being a sponsor licence holder, and employ people from overseas as a result, then you are required to comply with the obligations which have been published by the Home Office. These include various reporting and recording duties, such as maintaining records of each of your migrant workers’ individual files & documentation, as per the guidance which has been set out. Moreover, you must report to the Home Office if your migrant worker does not turn up for their first day of employment, is absent for more than 10 days, if you terminate their contract, or if there are notable changes within their employment status. It’s also worth noting that if your employee regularly comes and goes to and from the UK, then they may not end up meeting the requirements for indefinite leave. This particularly applies if they are hoping to, one day, gain permanent residence within the UK. The reason for this is because, regardless of whether they have spent a number of years on a skilled worker visa, the hybridity of their employment could potentially exclude them.
Business visas are much more straight down the line, owing to the fact that they are classified as visitor visas. The purpose of visitor visas is akin to tourism, therefore, there are strict regulations on what business visitors can do while in the UK. In a similar vein, these visa types permit people to remain in the UK for only a short period of time, typically for up to around 6 months. Again, whereas the onus is placed on the employer in the case of sponsorships, the onus falls on the employee here. Whether or not your employee will need such UK entry clearance depends on their nationality. For example, those who hold permanent residence within the EU, the USA, or Canada will not require pre-entry authorisation before their departure, whereas those in India, China, and the UAE will.
It’s not uncommon for business visitors to be prohibited from crossing the UK border if there is any doubt that their stated activities fall outside of the parameters which have been defined by the governing immigration rules. As such, if one of your remote workers is looking to come to the UK, then they will have to actively ensure that their purpose for being there is compliant with the guidelines. Although this might, at first, appear draconian, the general business activities which are permissible are rather broad. They are as follows:
- The negotiating of and signing of deals and/or contracts
- Conducting one of, or a short series of non-profit talks
- The attending of interviews, seminars, or conferences
- The attending of trade fairs (provided it is a promotional role only)
- Carrying out site visitations and inspections
- Obtaining information relating to their employment overseas
- Being briefed on the demands of a customer in the UK
- The providing of advice, consultation, training, or troubleshooting
- The sharing of skills and knowledge on corporate-wide internal project with other employees of their business
- Conducting internal auditor and regulatory responsibilities
- Receiving practical training from a UK-based company that will benefit their employment overseas.
Likewise, just as there are permissible activities, there are prohibited ones too. Of which, these virtually amount to any forms of work which the employee has been hired to do. This consists of either fulfilling their usual role at the business, as well as enacting coverage for another’s tasks during their stay in the UK. This caveat applies for whether they have the intention of working on-site or remotely from home. Considering this, as an employer, it’s crucial that you have a set plan for what your employee(s) will be doing exactly while in the UK, guaranteeing that their activities will not veer from the regulations; ask yourself if their stay is essential, how long will the stay last, and how often they’d need to travel.
Working Remotely while Abroad
It’s no surprise that, since working from home has become so pervasive, a great many employees now have a desire to either work in sunnier climes or in their home country. After all, for some, the pandemic starkly opened up this opportunity to work in a more preferable environment. However, working remotely abroad demands acute considerations from an individual’s employer, and additionally from the employee themselves, in order to accurately discern its viability.
Principally, it is integral to firstly determine if an employee is eligible to work abroad at all. This implies inspecting the pertinent immigration rules that the selected host country has in place, similarly to what has been implemented into the UK’s system. Of course, the specific immigration guidelines vary from country to country and may be relative to any extant agreements between the host country and the UK. It might be the case that a basic visitor’s permit will not allow the employee to work in the country they have chosen, and further still, that a business permit’s time allowance does not align with their desired intended stay. As such, it’s vital that you, as employer, are continually certain that your employee maintains that they consistently uphold the eligibility requirements. With this background, it would be wrong to assume that an individual can work while holidaying abroad, thereafter extending their stay for business purposes.
On the other hand, it’s possible that if an individual is working for a UK-based country with residence abroad, then they may be entitled to employment rights from the country that is hosting them. This could include employee benefits like paid annual leave, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and the right to minimum wage etc. Again, this completely depends on the host country in question, and each consideration might require you taking professional HR & employment law advice, given that it’s so integral for you to be aware of and fulfil your obligatory duties.
It’s also important to note that if a secondment requires an employee to undertake work in a foreign location then terms and conditions of employment will be interpreted in line with the law of England and Wales and the courts of this country shall hear any disputes.
Dealing with all that is involved with immigration rules relating to your employees who occasionally need to come to the UK as part of their job, or indeed, those who wish to work from home abroad, can be tricky to navigate. Especially taking into account all that you need to regularly oversee as an employer, it’s best to get proper advice if you believe that this subject applies to you. Our team at advo can assist you with the whole procedure, making sure that you’re cognizant of the UK’s immigration rules for your remote workers, and that you’re routinely abiding by them. Thank you for taking the time to read this piece, if you’re interested in our services, then be sure to get in touch with our HR consultants who will begin working on a tailored solution for you. You can find further related material on our news page.